5G is here: Is autonomous driving still far away?

Technology and Business

Alice Salter

Alice Salter



In this article, we look at how 5G and driverless tech is linked and ask:

  • Is 5G needed to make autonomous driving a reality?
  • Are there other benefits, or is it all about communicating at speed?
  • When will our cars be 5G-enabled?


It’s a topic which often comes to the surface whenever we discuss the practicalities of making autonomous vehicles (AVs) a common form of transport, but, so far, most discussion around 5G has focused on the fact that it’s quickly moving from big idea to reality. Now that it’s being rolled out in cities across the world, we’re following the lead of our Chinese sister site,, and taking a closer look at what widespread adoption of 5G will mean for the development of driverless tech.


How are 5G and AVs linked?


The two concepts are inextricably linked, and many experts agree that mass adoption of 5G is a necessary step before the driverless dream can be realised. Connectivity, and even high-speed connectivity, is a precondition of autonomous driving. No connectivity, no AD. It’s as simple as that. Often, 5G is discussed in line with C-V2X, a communications technology which will allow vehicles, traffic signals and more to connect using the same 5G networks we find on our phones. This future – the one where AVs are common – therefore revolves around 5G and the potential for the Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities and connections it offers.


This is partly down to the fact that this next generation of wireless technology offers such increased speeds. AVs have to gather an incredible amount of information via cameras, sensors, mapping and more in order to drive independently of human input. As a result, they process an incredible amount of data, certainly more than any other IoT device, and that needs to be done at speed.

5G is here 2025AD

UK national mapping agency Ordnance Survey agrees, "When you switch a light on, it turns on immediately. That's what you need with autonomous cars - if something happens, the car needs to stop immediately. That's why the high frequency 5G signals are required." At the very least, all those decisions the vehicle makes while driving need to happen at the same speed as a human driver. Ideally, they’ll be made faster than our average two milliseconds, resulting in a safer driving experience.


Is it all about communicating at speed?


Speed is a huge selling point for 5G, and the improvement it makes over the pre-existing 4G technology is impressive. Cai Min, working on 5G internet of vehicles at Continental Group, explains, “Compared with 4G, the communication speed of 5G has been greatly improved. The speed of 5G communication is dozens of times that of 4G communication. At the same time, the communication delay of 5G is very small, generally within 10ms.” Even under best conditions, 4G has a latency of 50ms and reaches an average speed of 10mbps (megabits per second), where 5G regularly exceeds 50mbps.

Eager to learn more about the link between connectivity and driverless tech? Read our interview with Nokia’s Phil Cottom right here


High speed and low latency are big draws, but they’re not the only features which make the tech so important to the development, and mass rollout, of driverless vehicles. Where the 4G technology we use right now is typically limited to information and communication services like in-car audio-visual entertainment, positioning services and vehicle remote control, 5G has a much broader scope.


The latest technology has the potential to connect endless devices, assist automated driving and realise some decision-making and control functions through vehicle networking. Cai Min explains, “As 5G increases the speed of instant communication vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, vehicle-to-pedestrian, and vehicle-to-road, it can directly communicate the situation around the road, and the perception of the vehicle environment, to the vehicle itself.” This naturally improves both safety and efficiency and will most likely accelerate the development of AVs in terms of both intelligence and connectivity.


High speed, high reliability and low latency bring other benefits too. These include safe map downloads and software updates, as well as information sharing with other vehicles. In-car infotainment will improve as video calls, data downloads and high-quality streaming all become a possibility, even on the go. Plus, the predicted high density of 5G opens new opportunities for the IoT, where communication between devices such as traffic lights and signals could make travel much more seamless and provide a back-up for AV sensors.


This concept is already being tested in Stockholm by technology firm Ericsson who see the potential in the integration of 5G into AVs as a communication tool. They propose that in the event of an emergency, authorities could effectively warn self-driving cars to avoid certain areas, or even disable hijacked vehicles. Essentially, 5G will allow driverless vehicles to become part of an extensive network boasting almost unlimited connectivity. As you can imagine, this has almost unlimited benefits too.


When will our cars be 5G enabled?


Now that 5G technology is being rolled out in various locations across the world, it will only be so long before capability to function with the tech is integrated into the vehicles we are buying and using. Speaking to Phil Cottom, director of industrial private wireless at Nokia, recently, it became clear that this is already a reality for many. He explained, “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.”

Continental 2025AD

It is something which the automotive industry is thinking about seriously too. The 5G Automotive Association now includes over 100 international automobile customers and all are preparing for a future where 5G is central to their business. Cai Min explains that Continental’s operation in China is preparing for a hybrid V2X 5G project to enter the market next year but is realistic about the speed at which we can expect to see a real shift to 5G in the industry.


He says, “5G vehicle products will be slower to enter the market in mass production than consumer electronic products such as mobile phones,” and recognises that networks, which need to be in place before AVs can realistically launch, will likely be driven by the mobile market. We may not be there just yet, but with the rollout of 5G, the driverless dream has taken a huge step forward.


Are you eager to see the rollout of 5G where you live? How would you use it’s in-car capabilities on the go? Share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.

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