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How 5G on streetlighting columns can help transport authorities, organisations and public transport providers

  • 7 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 23 Jun 2022
  • Last modified 22 Jun 2022
The Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA) project is currently deploying pilots across eight UK locations, strengthening relationships between the public sector, local authorities, and the telecommunications industry, in speeding up the rollout of 5G.

Led by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in partnership with the Department for Transport (DfT), the aim of the DCIA pilots is to maximise the use of ‘publicly-owned infrastructure assets’ - streetlighting columns, rooftops, bus shelters and so forth – in accelerating digital connectivity and inclusion across the UK.

The pilot areas are a mixture of rural and urban environments, to test asset management capability, and reflects DCMS' commitment to maximise the rollout of 5G across the whole of the UK. 

And all of this is big news for the transport industry; with greater connectivity, deployed more quickly, comes more opportunities to enhance transport offerings and exceed passenger expectations. Of course, with more physical assets in urban areas, there are more opportunities to deploy digital infrastructure, but the data and information that enhanced connectivity offers, can be used to ensure rural communities and passengers are not left behind. If anything, this is a real opportunity to optimise rural transport links and bridge digital divides across the country. 

As well as the richer mobile experience for communities – for instance passengers can reliably access their email, download TV shows or stream endless music while in transit – the opportunities only begin at increasing 5G connectivity for individual smartphones. The real tangible benefits are for businesses and organisations.

The benefits of unlocking transport data

By using lighting columns and other ‘street furniture’ on the routes that transport providers and organisations use, huge amounts of insightful data can be uploaded in real-time (one of the key benefits of 5G over 4G is the huge bandwidth). 

Below, we list four ways 5G can help make use of the potential data available, yet the collection of data could unlock additional sources of revenue for transport providers, turning vehicles into mobile data collectors that gather information on parking, potential road dangers, blockages and flooding for local authorities.

Significantly, the DCIA pilots are focused on asset management; the ability for infrastructure owners to easily identify and map assets suitable for the deployment of infrastructure. These assets, which may include those owned by transport organisations such as bus stops, would then be easily viewed by those looking to deploy infrastructure - which could include mobile network operators or transport authorities looking to deploy a private network in an area - improving communications, deployment and ultimately, speeding up the deployment of advanced connectivity.

So, if 5G can offer the transport sector a wealth of information, and DCIA can accelerate the rate at which the sector can access 5G, what could this mean for your organisation, in real terms? 

Customer service: get more passengers on public transport

In terms of ‘levelling up’, the opportunities for improved urban and rural mobility via effective public transport are huge.

Whilst more people are likely to review and choose public transport travel options for work and leisure as the price of fuel rises and the costs of keeping a car becoming more challenging, this will only be realised if these options meet their needs.

At present, the way people get data about their routes could be improved – timings on boards at bus stops, or information pushed to apps to update passengers, is not truly real-time and can be a source of frustration when relying on public transport. The DfT has already taken steps and publishes provides open data on timetables, bus location, and fares data for local bus services across England. Local authorities may want to invest in digital timetables to encourage more use of this bus data and reassure passengers in greater utilising public transport.

With 5G infrastructure and connectivity, transport authorities would have a greater understanding – and real-time update – of passenger numbers on busy or quiet routes, and which routes may need increased support or adaptation. Leeds already provide occupancy data at bus stops for passengers resulting in a more positive informed experience. Digital, dynamic maps at bus stops may also enhance the overall passenger experience.

With 5G’s expanded bandwidth and low latency, it is the only connectivity solution currently that can deliver the full potential of vehicle to everything communications (V2X), which can really help efficiency of services and improve customer experience, with up-to-date information and rapid problem solving, such as revised bus routes to avoid collisions.

Connected and automated vehicles will not only need the latest route information to navigate through streets but – to interact with other vehicles and infrastructure constantly – an accurate picture of where all the corresponding sensors are located too, and 5G can help realise this. 

Avoid traffic congestion

The amount of information could help give unprecedented insights for smarter, more productive transport operations. Traffic could be avoided, with shared accurate road information enabling decisions to be made remotely, seeing the whole travel picture.

The information from buses and coaches would be sent live to a control room, where they can not only advise the driver of an alternative or change to routing, they can also push this information back to customers, as explained above.  While advisory information can be provide to bus and coach drivers in real-time, advising them of the optimal speed needed to reach a green light, helping to smooth movement through junctions.  

Similarly, smart junctions, such as those deployed in Manchester as part of the Smart Junctions 5G project and in Bristol as part of the 5G Logistics project, can further aid the flow of traffic by dynamically altering the time a traffic light stays green to allow larger vehicles such as freight lorries or buses to pass through.

Reduce your carbon footprint

The above two opportunities offer up a significant additional benefit – to be more environmentally friendly. The imperative to be green and commercial can be a challenge, but with more data comes the opportunity to be more environmentally conscious. 

Advanced connectivity could also be used in the future to analyse and optimise smarter routing, reducing fuel usage from idle traffic, sharing information about vehicle statuses (to avoid breakdowns) and - in the not too distant future - ease the transition to all-electric and smart or semi-autonomous vehicles.  Additionally, dynamic traffic management offers the possibility to prioritise certain types of transport, such as buses or cyclists, further rewarding and encouraging use of greener transport modes.

Commercial benefits: save costs and time

This real-time optimisation and upload of data from vehicles to each other, passengers, and a central hub, can save many staff hours that can be put back into the organisation, adding value to local people and communities in other, more effective or customer-facing roles.  Critically, the experience for passengers and the flow of transport through areas can be significantly improved.

The DCIA project is significant as many of these use cases and benefits will only be unlocked once we have widescale 5G deployment.  To achieve this, deploying connectivity through public infrastructure will be key and anything that can accelerate that process will be of value to the transport sector. Transport authorities can be owners of such infrastructure, meaning the sector’s interest in DCIA and its outcomes are two-fold: both as potential recipients or beneficiaries of accelerated 5G deployment, and as enablers of that deployment.

The importance of DCIA to the transport sector is further evidenced by the role of DfT in this programme, they are leading on one of the other three workstreams that make up the project (the pilots being just one). Their work is focused on PFI contracts - significant as almost half (42%) of local authorities in England have a contractual issue which prohibits the installation of telecoms equipment on PFI assets. Long term contractual solutions to this challenge are being developed with regular progress and updates shared.

What can you do next, to be kept up to date with the DCIA project? Check out our dedicated web page here.  The project has a strong focus on dissemination of outcomes, and regular updates will be communicated through UK5G and on gov.uk.

We also recommend speaking to local authorities; get in touch with the transport department and see the potential plans for 5G on street furniture in your region. Start the dialogue early and be part of the conversation.