Why autonomous mobility needs strong networks

For a long time, autonomous driving was only a vision. The technical progress is increasingly transforming this vision into something real. Nowadays, there are already many vehicles with smart driver assistance systems and partially automated driving functions on our roads. Stable and powerful mobile networks, such as the new 5G networks, represent an important prerequisite for this. In this article, we clarify why autonomous vehicles need a powerful and stable mobile network.

Brief definition of the concept “autonomous driving”

Before we pay close attention to the requirements for mobile networks, first let’s have a brief discussion about the most important concepts related to autonomous driving.

Autonomous driving, respectively automated driving, is divided into five different levels by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). At the highest level, five, a vehicle is fully automated and does not require a driver anymore. It decides independently and reacts to various traffic situations, without the need for a driver to intervene. Starting with the lowest autonomy level (self-driving) and up to the highest level, five, smart assistance and automation systems gradually take over the functions related to controlling the vehicle.

Difference between driverless mobility and actual autonomous mobility

Often, autonomous mobility and autonomous driving are equated with driverless mobility. However, driverless mobility is not synonymous with actual autonomous mobility. After all, concepts such as remote driving, where the operator takes complete control of the vehicle from a distance, may manage completely without a driver in the vehicle, but they have very little to do with autonomous driving. The operator still makes all the important decisions and the vehicle does not act autonomously.

Requirements of autonomous driving for the mobile networking

Autonomous driving requires a great deal of technical components. The vehicles are equipped with various sensors and actuators, as well as computer technology, in order to pick up information from the environment, process and pass it to the actuators, for the control of the vehicle. However, the vehicles cannot make all the decisions themselves. They must network with smart traffic systems and other vehicles. Through networking, they exchange information and cooperate with one another.

The networking of vehicles of one another and the traffic infrastructure places a lot of demand on the mobile technology. The basic prerequisite is that connectivity is reliably available on all traffic routes. Moreover, some of the applications, such as the updates of digital road maps for navigation systems require high bandwidths within a short period of time. In other situations, real-time updates and short reaction times of the network are decisive for the safe autonomous driving.

5G – a key technology for autonomous driving

The fifth generation of mobile communications (5G) is one of the key technologies for autonomous driving. Previous technologies, such as LTE or UMTS, only partially meet the requirements regarding reliability, guaranteed network resources, transmission capacity and reaction times. Only with the 5G mobile communications technology, it will be possible to achieve high-performance, nationwide coverage for the exchange of large data volumes in real time. In comparison to previous technologies, such as LTE or UMTS, 5G offers many times the speed, with significantly lower latency times: the new mobile communications standard achieves data transmission rates in the gigabit range and latency times of just a few milliseconds. The low latency times enable the autonomous systems to have fast and adequate reactions in hazardous situations, including at high speeds. Another positive trait of 5G is that the usable frequency range has increased significantly. The different frequencies can be used for both the short and long range coverage, forming the basis for a good coverage of all traffic routes. 5G also supports the edge computing. By storing and processing data in close proximity to traffic routes, the vehicles receive the necessary information even faster.

5G Application profile for autonomous driving – Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications

These three application profiles are currently defined for the 5G mobile networks:

  • eMBB (Enhanced Mobile Broadband)
  • mMTC (Massive Machine Type Communications)
  • uRLLC (Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications)

uRLLC stands for Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications and it represents an application profile, which is predestined for autonomous driving. It is intended for time-critical applications and offers a robust, fail-safe communication within the millisecond range, with a high mobility of network users.

Diverse technical processes are used for the realization of uRLLC characteristics. An essential technique is the so-called network slicing. It divides the 5G network into virtual network layers. One of these network layers is available for autonomous driving. By dividing the same network infrastructure into virtual layers, it is guaranteed that the information relevant for the safety of autonomous vehicles does not remain stuck in a data jam, but is actually prioritized over other application data, such as infotainment data.

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