On the Way to Mobile Network 5G

Mobile network operators, device manufacturers, automotive brands and many other industries are already preparing for the arrival of “5G.” The new technology of the fifth generation mobile network is set to make a whole host of new applications possible.

Cars and vehicles will communicate with other vehicles in future, as well as with infrastructure including traffic lights. Graph: ZF

Scheduled to launch in 2020 – only three years from now – industries including mobile communications that rely on wireless networking for their products are already going full steam ahead at readying themselves for “5G” – the fifth generation mobile network. Most smartphones and networked vehicles currently use “4G,” also referred to as “LTE.” 4G is the abbreviation for the current, fourth generation of mobile networks. The first generation referred to analog car phones, offered up until the mid-nineties. The second generation was the first digital mobile communications standard “GSM.” 3G followed in 2000, and is also known by the moniker “UMTS.”

Real-time tuning in mobile network

Each successive generation has brought about faster data transmission speeds and quicker reaction times – a trend set to continue with the fifth generation. And that despite developers’ prime focus on “latency” as they tweak with the final details of the future standard. This specialist term refers to the time that a data packet requires for its journey from the internet to the mobile receiving device. Latency in today’s communication networks is between 40 and 100 milliseconds. 5G should drastically reduce this to 1 millisecond – one thousandth of a second. The reason that this is being ascribed so much importance is in the planned applications of the 5G network.

For example, the future network is earmarked to enable highly-automated vehicles to communicate with one another in real time. In one possible freeway scenario, a following vehicle would automatically decelerate slightly in order to enable an autonomous vehicle to execute a lane-change and overtake another vehicle safely. Another example is the identification of pedestrians and cyclists concealed by other vehicles or buildings – by recognizing the presence of their smartphone or wearable. Such highly dynamic processes demand lightning-fast reaction times.

Connectivity solutions for data transmission between vehicles (Vehicle-to-Vehicle) and between vehicles and other systems (Vehicle-to-X) are already available. As these rely on WiFi or the LTE vehicle protocol – “LTE-V” – they are not fast enough for time-sensitive applications. Minimizing latency presents an array of new technical challenges. Even the quickest modern data transmission speeds – via fiberglass cabling – “only” achieve speeds approaching the speed of light. In a single millisecond, a beam of light travels 300 kilometers. As fast as it sounds, this means that a packet of information could never hope to make its way across the country from a network hub in Bonn, Düsseldorf or Munich to a user in Hamburg or Berlin in the millisecond that the 5G standard demands.

“Mobile Edge Cloud”: the future of the mobile network

Engineers working on this – a critical issue for 5G – have developed a solution known as the “Mobile Edge Cloud.” This involves the migration of functions previously executed in centralized data centers (the “cloud”) to the so-called edge of the radio networks, the individual mobile network base stations. Each of these will be upgraded to include its own mini data processing centers. In the traffic situations mentioned above, this would mean that both data transmission and processing remains entirely local, within the radio cell connected to the vehicles and devices involved. Should longer distances still need to be overcome, such as the communication of lane management information along freeway construction sites, complex algorithms will guarantee that data arrives where and when it is required. Artificial intelligence will calculate the probability that a certain data packet or piece of information is demanded at a certain time at a certain location.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this is all ­science fiction, but the process described is already being tested in large-scale field tests and gradually honed. A section of Bavaria’s A 9 autobahn is already equipped with the Mobile Edge Cloud, allowing car manufacturers to test autonomous vehicles in real-life scenarios. In a mere three years, the first 5G applications will leave the lab and become commercially available.

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