5G expert Phil Cottom on the link between connectivity and driverless tech

Business and Technology

Phil Brown

Phil Brown



As autonomous vehicles (AVs) continue to develop, so too must the technology which supports them. Now that 5G is here, we thought it was time to sit down with an expert and learn more about how increased connectivity will push the development of driverless tech forward.


Phil Cottom is director of industrial private wireless at Nokia – together we discuss the role of 5G in the fourth industrial revolution, and how the tech will change the landscape for driverless vehicles.

Phil Cottom

First of all, how is Nokia involved with the UK's 5G networks?

Nokia is one of the leading suppliers of equipment and services for building mobile networks worldwide and is at the forefront of developing 5G technology. We work with the majority of mobile providers worldwide.



Do you think 5G can make roads safer?

5G has characteristics such as low latency, and in later releases, ultra-low latency which means data can be transferred with minimal delay, effectively in real-time. It also has higher reliability, increased bandwidth, resulting in faster data transfer, and improved predictability that make new use cases commercially and technically viable. It is a key enabling technology for the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, which will include the ability for autonomous control of vehicles.  



What sort of things could you do with 5G, say, on a fully autonomous journey?

The vast majority of traffic incidents are driver related and so full autonomous control of the journey will increase the safety for the passengers and pedestrians. It will also increase traffic efficiency and therefore reduce CO2 emissions, all with onboard immersive infotainment.



What will 5G mean for robotics?

The same characteristics that ‘drive’ automation on highways will also drive process efficiency via fully automated operations, allowing manufacturers to ditch the wired constraints and go wireless. This allows an increase in flexibility in response to customer orders, a reduction in human error and an overall improvement in consistency, quality and predictability of output. Entire production lines will be reconfigurable to set up for a new production run within hours rather than days, weeks or not at all, as is the case right now.



What is the biggest benefit that 5G will bring to our road network?

There are 1.25 million fatalities each year on the world’s highways. Understandably, many are looking to automated driving technologies enabled by 4.9GLTE/5G to reduce accident rates due to human error. Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems (C-ITS) will use vehicle-to-everything (V2X) communications to improve traffic flow using techniques such as Cooperative Adaptive Cruise Control. V2X communications will be used for advanced traffic management systems (ATMS) which will contribute to an overall improvement in safety.



5G is only available in certain areas. How long until we can access it world-wide?

5G is only really starting to be rolled out from 2020 and the rate of the deployment will be down to each mobile operator. Private 5G networks using Nokia’s 5G Standalone (5GSA) Digital Automation Cloud Platform are now available. This will enable Industry 4.0 to deploy their own private 5G network to provide a standalone, highly secure, highly reliable, low latency and high bandwidth network either in combination with a mobile operator or using local shared spectrum where this is available. In the UK, for example, the local regulator has enabled a very large amount of 5G spectrum to be licensed by Enterprise customers at just £80 per year for 10Mhz, with 400Mhz available.



Will mobile uptake be quick? At the moment you need a 5G-enabled device, and we're being encouraged to buy phones and upgrade less frequently.

Whether you want or need a 5G phone will depend on what applications you intend to use and which characteristic of 5G you need. Many use cases can be easily satisfied using existing data rates and response times provided by the 4.9G/LTE being deployed today. 5G uptake will be driven largely by industry and those requiring high capacity to the handset – gamers on the move, for example.



One benefit we foresaw was real-time video calls in higher quality than 4G. How important do you think this has become in the current situation?

High quality video calls will be very important to Industry 4.0. A current example is a trial we are carrying out with Lufthansa Technik to improve the collaboration with their Aero engine customers significantly.


As part of the process, a table inspection takes place several times during an engine overhaul event, requiring the end customer representative to attend site to inspect the work. As most of their customers are located all over the world, they are trialling so-called ‘virtual table inspections’ to avoid time-consuming business trips – especially in these times. Using a high definition wireless camera, they can show customers their assets conveniently at their office desk.

5G Nokia 2025AD

Are we closer to having 5G enabled cars? Are manufacturers taking notice? 

Nokia is one of the founders of the 5G Automobile Association and this now includes over 100 automobile customers. The majority of new cars, if not all of them, now leave the factory with some form of connectivity to allow over the air software updates.



Traffic automation is inextricably linked to infrastructure, so do you think 5G-operated cars on our roads is a realistic goal in the next decade? 

On a personal note, and therefore not a Nokia view, I believe that over the majority of the next decade, vehicles will increasingly become more ‘connected’ including gaining an awareness of surrounding cars, infrastructure, pedestrians, and an awareness of accidents ahead. All of this will improve safety and reliability. Much will be achieved without the car having to be fully autonomous.



How does 5G perform differently to 4G in a general emission context? 

Generally speaking, 5G consists of spectrum at higher frequencies than 4G, although this is not always the case. The signal at these frequencies is attenuated more than at 4G and so does not go as far as a typical 4G signal. This means that more radio equipment is needed to cover the same area.


What comes after 5G?

Knowing the marketeers – 6G. Nokia Bell Labs will be working on this, but I am unable to share any detail.



How do you think 5G will change the landscape for driverless vehicles? Do you welcome the new technology? Are we getting close to true automation? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.

Related articles

What will 5G drive for me?

What will 5G drive for me?

Clock 4 minutes
Automated driving: the 5 key technical challenges

Automated driving: the 5 key technical challenges

Clock 6 minutes


<div id="hs_cos_wrapper_Engage_" class="hs_cos_wrapper hs_cos_wrapper_widget hs_cos_wrapper_type_inline_text" style="" data-hs-cos-general-type="widget" data-hs-cos-type="inline_text" data-hs-cos-field="submit_your_story.icon_text">Letter</div>
Submit your story

Become part of our automated revolution and submit your stories, images and videos

Submit your story
Stay informed

Stay up to speed with our mailing list. Enjoy automated driving content direct to your inbox

Join our weekly briefing
Connect with us

Follow us on our social networks for up to date information and thoughts on automated driving