At CES 2019, TechRepublic Managing Editor Bill Detwiler spoke with Qualcomm’s Sanjeev Athalye about how 5G will be critical for emerging technologies and fields such as driverless vehicles and telemedicine. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.
Bill Detwiler: How important is 5G going to be to us really achieving the full potential of technologies like autonomous vehicles? We talk about AI, we’re talking about telemedicine and things that require really low latency. 5G seems to be at least the connectivity that’s going to underpin those technologies.
Talk a little bit about that, how important 5G is going to be to all of these different technologies.
Sanjeev Athalye: I mean, even if you take 4G as an example, we’ve seen through the standardization process, which is kind of the front end of the commercialization process, that more and more industries have kind of glommed onto 4G and cellular as a connectivity platform rather than having bespoke solutions for particular industries. We have demonstration and announcements about our cellular V2X, or vehicle, or to vehicle, vehicle to infrastructure. We’re talking about TV stations wandering around over 5G. And so we’re seeing, industrial IoT companies wanting to use 5G within their factories where high reliability is very important.
You talked about telemedicine. Some of these we see even in things that we use today, right? Transportation has been changed fundamentally. This interview has been changed fundamentally by cellular mobile connectivity and form factors. And as you said, we see 5G extending that to other industries. In the IoT space, for the next few years, it will be based upon a 4G kind of physical layer implementation in terms of IoT. But, it is still within the cellular family, with a path to go to a true 5G lower layer based IoT applications. But what’s important is industries don’t need to care about how the bids are carried, right? They need to see it in terms of APIs or… This is that they can access from the network or the network providers. The transition from 4G to 5G IoT will be seamless for them, besides having to add on 5G based hardware rather than 4G based hardware.
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Bill Detwiler: Building on that, do you see that as the biggest roadblock to widespread 5G adoption? Is it any different than it was from the transition to 3G to 4G? Just as the carriers have slowly begun to roll out their 5G tests networks, and they’ve been replacing their equipment sort of quietly. But once you reach the point where businesses have to, you know, it’s not going to be backward compatible so they’re going to have to start replacing their hardware. Do you see a cycle that’s similar to what we’ve seen in the past, or will it be somehow different this time around with 5G hardware?
Sanjeev Athalye: In terms of actually putting a new hardware because it is a new standard, it is not backward compatible, although it is complimentary, right with 4G. From that standpoint, there will have to be new equipment on the cell towers, as well as on the end devices. But from a services standpoint, I think operators have already been thinking about and have been implementing how to use their assets and their investments in the network towards businesses, be they content providers, or interim industrial providers, et cetera. Those kind of service exposure, or API exposure towards those verticals has been kind of started on 4G already, and so I don’t see it as a revolution in going to five years, like, oh, we’ve got a rip and replace. It’s going to be more of a continuum.
Other trends that are coming in, in the 5G timeframe are artificial intelligence and machine learning as well as the cloud, right? These things have been converging. 4G and advanced 4G are already providing a basis for operators to experiment, both from a technology standpoint as well as from a business standpoint. In this area as well, the lower latency and higher data rates at 5G will enable these use cases to be done more easily and on a more widespread basis than 4G can today.
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Bill Detwiler: And you mentioned something earlier. I’d love to get a little bit more information on. When you talked about direct vehicle to vehicle communications and we were talking about that. Here at CES, Qualcomm in partnership with several auto manufacturers is showing off the CV2X.
Sanjeev Athalye: Correct.
Bill Detwiler: Direct communication technology. Talk a little bit about that and how it’s accelerating a technology like autonomous vehicles, that needs other technologies to succeed. It’s not as if you can get there by itself. You need to be able to have the vehicles to talk to each other, to talk to pedestrians, to talk back to the cloud. Talk a little bit about that.
Sanjeev Athalye: Sure. I would say that there are, broadly, you can say that the vehicle and cellular convergence occurs and do a kind of distinct use case groups. The first one is what’s called basic safety. That can be enabled using LTE based cellular V2X already. It’s based upon what’s called release 14 of the standard. We’re right now and release 15 of the standard, in terms of standardization. The second set of use cases is more about enabling things like autonomous vehicles. To break that down a little bit for autonomous vehicles to operate efficiently, you need what are called high definition maps or HD maps. The collection and distribution of those maps requires very high data rates. That’s where 5G can step in and really improve on vehicle or use cases.
The second area is in terms of the traffic efficiency. One of the demos were showing is of vehicles at an intersection, so it could be a motorcycle or car, or a truck, whatever it is. Given a US road system, if a car is trying to make a left turn, which is not a protected turn, then the vehicle has to wait for traffic to pass by, find a gap and then make a maneuver safely. Autonomous vehicles by themselves will likely be conservative in terms of aiming to find a big gap with vehicles coming slowly before they kind of slide in to merge with traffic. What cellular V2X and 5G base under the V2X can do, is to have intention sharing between vehicles.
The vehicle that’s trying to make a left turn can broadcast that it intends to join the stream of traffic, and basically it can create courtesy in the traffic. That is, it’s trying to merge and that they can slow down, create a gap, and this car can merge more quickly. What I’m getting at is, basic safety is there with LTE. That will improve with 5G because we’ll have lower latency at higher scalability. Then we open up new use cases so that autonomous vehicles can be feasible, but also efficient in a mass traffic scenario.