With 5G on the radar of so many people, it can be tough to get a bead on how exactly it will change our lives and what technologies it will marshal to do so. One thing we do know for certain is that 5G will galvanize “mission-critical” services such as autonomous vehicles, cellular-connected drones, and real-time health care.
To learn how 5G will do this, as well as the role these technologies will play going forward, we spoke with Qualcomm Technologies’ Chief Technology Officer Matt Grob ahead of his talk at Quartz’s Next Billion conference. Matt expounded on the pressing need for seamless connectivity in autonomous vehicles, Qualcomm’s foundational 5G technologies, and the behavioral shifts that 5G could engender.
What are “mission-critical” services?
When I talk about mission-critical services, I’m referring to areas where high reliability is required. For example, safety-related systems in vehicles, industrial controls, drones operating in controlled airspace or near populated areas, and many medical applications are all mission-critical services. A loss in connectivity or high-latency connection (a connection that has considerable delays sending packets of data from one point to another) in any of these activities would bring serious consequences.
Can 4G enable these services?
Yes, to some extent, but with 5G, certain capabilities can be designed in at an earlier stage versus being added later. In many cases, latency — the time between your action and the response — needs to be as low as one millisecond. The ability to increase the priority of a critical transmission during a period of high network load is also important. Reliability in terms of deep, redundant coverage in addition to high system availability are also crucial. While it’s possible to extend 4G to provide similar services, by designing it into the 5G framework from the start, we allow mission-critical services to be delivered more efficiently.
What are some of the challenges of extending perfect connectivity to mission-critical services?
In terms of automobiles, one such challenge is enabling low latency and reliable communication links to the network and other vehicles. Modern vehicles, which communicate with each other (and not just the network), can improve safety and efficiency. It won’t be enough to rely only on the cloud. By avoiding the round trip to the cloud, the direct link is less delayed and more reliable.
Cellular V2X, planned as part of the LTE standard pioneered by Qualcomm, will provide an integrated solution for connectivity between vehicles. With this type of technology in place, we’ll begin to realize the promise of advanced driver assistance systems that can enhance safety by alerting drivers to potential problems.
We’ll also be able to build in technological safeguards that have the potential to reduce the number of accidents — and fatalities — on our roads. Last year in the U.S., over 35,000 people lost their lives in traffic-related crashes.
On the road, every millisecond counts. A 2013 NHTSA study of rear-impact collisions showed that there were significant benefits for LED lamps compared to incandescent lamps. LEDs were 200ms faster; that equates to a distance of 5.8 meters when travelling at 65mph. That means cars have more room to brake, which can help prevent or reduce the severity of vehicle collisions.
A similar issue is at play here; it’s critical for vehicle-to-vehicle applications to work at a very low latency. With 5G, we can rely on our vehicles to sense — and avoid — things that we can’t.
How will 5G ensure connectivity?
A new, high-reliability link paradigm will deliver this capability with the 5G unified air interface. This interface is how the device and the network communicate, and it will support multiple techniques to protect mission-critical messages.
One such technique, called puncturing, will listen for those transmissions while supporting regular voice and data services. It ensures that unscheduled, mission-critical communications can receive priority handling while still supporting other services. For example, puncturing in industrial drone command and control — where operators may be many miles away from the machine they’re controlling — will allow commands to get through reliably and without delay.
5G will also support redundant connections through multi-connectivity, allowing devices to connect across multiple 5G network nodes, or even 4G or Wi-Fi, simultaneously to enhance reliability.
By building on the existing LTE infrastructure with wide coverage, a mature ecosystem, strong reliability and security, and a rich roadmap, we’ll provide a solid foundation for future 5G enhancements.
And overseeing this all will be a flexible network architecture that will provide opportunities for additional services to take advantage of these improvements in throughput, coverage, latency, and reliability.
How will 5G’s application to mission-critical services change human behavior?
This network will contribute to the transformation of transportation, improving safety and, in some cases, freeing drivers from the act of controlling their vehicles. This will open up significant time for increased productivity, entertainment, and social interaction, so passengers can take advantage of the speed enhancements that 5G also brings. At the same time, reliable connectivity for vehicles will reduce auto fatalities and the resulting negative societal and economic impacts.
We also believe that when we provide wireless connectivity as reliable as a wired network, we’ll open up innovations that no one could have predicted. A world in which five billion people are connected wirelessly to each other and the world around them — what our partners at Ericsson call the “Networked Society” — is a world where totally new functions and behaviors become possible.
How is Qualcomm positioned to lead when it comes to enabling mission-critical services with 5G?
We have a proven end-to-end system approach, which is required to drive new technologies from concept to commercialization at a rapid pace and at a massive scale. We’re designing the new 5G air interface to deliver these amazing new capabilities while still supporting LTE and Wi-Fi. These are the practical, technical advantages that put Qualcomm in a position to lead the world in 5G.
Read more about the global impact of 5G in our interactive Quartz bulletin.