How will we travel in the future?
Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) are coming. So too are more electric cars. Research suggests that an extra 1.3 million electric cars will be brought onto the roads as a result of 5G-proofed energy grids that will enable mass electric car charging. But it’s not all about shiny new products. It’s also about hardwiring 5G technology into transport and infrastructure designs and upgrading traffic and rail management systems to cope more efficiently with the increased demand. Because as city populations continue to grow and more workers commute from out of town, both infrastructure and user patience are coming under increased pressure.
A 5-G enabled road management system, able to respond to traffic pressures at unprecedented speeds, will reduce the time spent in traffic by 10% for the UK’s 5.6 million driving commuters. It will give them back an average of 3.2 hours a year and save the economy a fortune in lost productivity caused by congestion, which will also create a cleaner environment. A recent trial of this technology by Transport for London (TfL) reduced traffic delays by 20%.
The introduction of low-power, low-cost 5G sensors on key public transport infrastructure, such as railway lines and traffic lights, will also play a crucial role in helping transport services and councils reduce traffic congestion. And commuters will be better connected to street-level data via mobile journey planning apps linked to connected street fixtures, such as lamp posts or bus stops, helping them plan their journeys better. For example, drivers will be directed to free parking spaces through their smartphones or connected vehicles. According to Accenture, trials of dynamic smart meter pricing in US cities LA, Portland and Columbus has grown parking revenue by 27%.
Meanwhile public transport users will benefit from 5G-connected bus stops. In London, O2’s partnership with TfL already provides data connectivity to over 9000 London buses, enabling ticket validation and automatic vehicle location and control. It also helps commuters plan their journey by providing real-time data on bus arrival times. In the future this 5G connectivity will enable users to purchase e-tickets and plan onward journeys using interactive maps.
O2: working to make it happen
This future vision is laid out in detail in the recent Smart Cities report, The value of 5G for cities and communities, produced by O2. The telecommunications giant is already involved in several high-profile UK trials, including partnering the Wireless Infrastructure Group (WIG) to deliver connectivity for driverless vehicles in the West Midlands.
Speaking about the project, O2 CTO Brendan O’Reilly said: “Following our successful deployment of the UK’s first centralised radio network (C-RAN) in Aberdeen in partnership with WIG, we will be using this same cutting-edge technology across what we expect to be Europe’s largest fibre connected small cell network.”
O2 is also working as part of the AutoAir consortium, which demonstrated the UK’s only independent 5G-enabled infrastructure for CAVs for the first time in February 2019 at its test site in Millbrook.
“What we’re really trying to do here is connect capability of technology with customers and businesses so we can best understand how to make it useful and practical,” explains Derek McManus, COO at O2. “So, in these trials we’re taking the business problem and the technology and working through what the solution looks like.”
Derek McManus, COO @ O2
O2 is already talking to FTSE 100 companies, engaging in business strategy and problem-solving, with the next step to set up trials to find 5G solutions to improve future business models. They are currently working with retail and transport businesses, including several large transport infrastructure companies.
“The UK is already building intelligent motorways but that's more to do with speed,” says Derek. “There's a real opportunity with 5G capability to create roads that are intelligent enough to manage traffic, help drivers find less congested routes, create better traffic flow and reduce pollution.” Intelligent cars can also gather data on road surfaces and flag up areas of concern to local councils, enabling proactive and reactive repairs to be carried out. This in turn will help with car maintenance and overall driving performance.
The benefits also apply to public transport, where probes on tracks and in trains can identify system wear and tear to allow for precise maintenance planning and significantly reduce delays. Transport can also be tracked in real time which has implications not only for passengers but also for freight to improve efficiency. While greater connectivity at stations and on trains would allow passengers to be more productive during their travel time.
In terms of technology used, there are two different time frames. Non-standalone 5G, which is 5G technology at the local base station, will be developed quicker than the end-to-end technology. Think of non-standalone as a 5G base station stuck on the end of a 4G network, advises Derek.
“With this you get a lot of the 5G benefits but don't get everything. You don't get the massive latency that I think will start to change how things can be done remotely and you don’t get all of the speed benefits, but you do get some.” Basically, when people talk about a 5G “launch”, this is what they are talking about.
Standalone 5G, with a full end-to-end service running 5G connectivity through to a 5G base station, will probably come in two years or so, he says. “That’s when you start to get the real power of all the capability and all those things that can potentially change the UK economy and any economy 5G operates in. What we need to do now however is develop the applications and the capabilities for those services to run, that’s the work we’ve been engaged in to date.”
In a similar way to the 2-part technology rollout, the challenges also come in two parts, according to Derek. One challenge is to make sure that the correct rules and policies around the infrastructure rollout are in place to help investment.
“As an industry we’re all working with the government and the regulators on this and if we all believe that 5G will have a significant positive impact on the British economy, how do we work together to encourage investment at scale to speed up that roll-out process? What are the policies and rules that need to be put in place to help the industry deliver that investment?”
The second challenge is bringing businesses, innovation start-ups and the technology together to realise those business cases that will benefit the UK economy and its citizens.
“We did 4G from start to finish in just over four years and that was a massive investment,” reveals Derek.
“I suspect 5G will take a bit longer than that but it’s difficult to put a time on it and it also depends on the business cases. If we find mutual business cases that are vital complete, then there will be a real drive to accelerate but if they are slow in happening it will be harder to justify the huge weight of expense.”
Key stakeholders in the project discuss the journey so far – and the plans ahead – in this video.
In the future, Derek believes that transport will become a more pleasurable, efficient and ecological friendly process. But not only that, 5G will also, he claims, reduce the need to travel as much because we will all be able to do so much more from our homes.
“If you look at 5G, there are three basic main ingredients – bandwidth, latency and connectivity. 5G has more bandwidth and is faster than 4G, that's obvious. It also promises to have latency that is significantly better than the human brain is today, meaning you can do things in real time as quick, if not quicker, than the human brain can. And finally, you can connect millions and millions of things together to create the Internet of Things.”
This could lead, he continues, to revolutionary innovations, such as carrying out specialised surgery remotely, where patients would be able travel to their local hospital to access global specialists anywhere in the world.
“If 5G fulfils its potential it will be enormous but just providing the technology alone is not enough. We need real collaboration between the government, authorities and UK businesses is to make this thing come to life. And that's really our mission, to bring this life for benefit of UK citizens and the UK economy.”
This case study was written by: Bernadette Fallon
Published on 9th April 2019