Automated cars will probably need 5G

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When 3G wireless internet was first made available to the public, it was a watershed moment. Finally, we could access the internet at “broadband” speeds, without the need for a local WiFi connection. 4G was less of a big deal, but it’s still an important piece of technology, allowing everyone with a good connection to watch HD video without buffering or much of a pre-load lead-in. However even 4G has its limitations, operating at most at 100Mbps. That’s fast, but many people think that when it comes to automated vehicles, which will be sending reams of data to one another and a central processing location to receive navigation and other information, we’ll need something faster.

That’s where 5G comes in.

5G is a little different than previous generations, because as TechRepublic points out, it’s not designed to fix any problems we have with mobile internet at the moment, it’s designed to fix problems that we’ll have in the future. And those problems as with many of the ones we’ve had in the past, will be at least partially related to bandwidth. 5G will come into play in 2020 and will be popularised and run its course right into the 2030s, which means we’ll be dealing with ultra high definition video streaming wirelessly all over the world. It means 3D virtual reality streaming, it means 3D printing from the cloud. It means heavy internet usage.

5g

Which is why 5G will no doubt be able to handle at least a gigabit of data per second, or roughly 100 megabytes per second. Over time, that may go into the multiple hundreds. However another aspect of it will be needed if it’s to be used for the likes of automated cars: low latency. It’s thought that 5G will be able to get that down to as low as 1ms, which would be perfect for a lot of things – as well as giving commands to, or backing up decisions made by, an automated car.

“With LTE, when you touch your screen, you wait for the web response, and it’s fast enough. For example, if it’s less than 16ms, you feel like there’s no delay and everything’s a very good experience. If you use GSM, it’s 500 to 600 ms. You have a half second of latency… It’s improved [with subsequent generations of mobile tech], but if you’re driving a car and you ask a car to turn left, if you still have 100ms delay, that car will be in trouble,” said Dr Wen Tong, head of Huawei’s Wireless Research division. “That needs a very fast response, and that’s something we don’t have today with LTE,” Tong said. “We need to reduce latency to less than 1ms. That means that you need a new design.”

Not only does it need to be a fast response to avoid lag though, but also to avoid errors. One bad packet could cause a catastrophic accident. That’s why it’s going to need 5G.

Fortunately then, with driverless cars not set to become mainstream for at least another decade, the internet infrastructure should be there waiting for them.

Image source: Broadcom

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.