Could 5G connectivity be the changemaker technology for road safety? – Dr Dimitrios Kaltakis, WSP

by | Sep 15, 2022 | News, Safety, Technology

Dr Dimitrios Kaltakis, 5G and connectivity lead at WSP, outlines how network operators, vehicle manufacturers, and road operators must work together to achieve Vision Zero. 

As digital connectivity becomes increasingly vital – not just for the smooth but for the safe operation of transport networks – access to 5G can benefit a huge range of stakeholders and end users.

Today transport is more than just travel – it connects people to each other, to jobs, to vital services and it’s essential for the logistics we all depend on every day. All this relies not just on physical assets such as roads, bridges, and train tracks, but on data and digital connectivity.

The role of data in improving transport is well established. For example, on the roads, monitoring the highways network using cameras helps operators respond quickly to incidents, provide information, and keep traffic flowing. On the railways, CCTV helps keep passengers safe, while smart card readers at station barriers make ticketing seamless. All these systems and others work by getting data from A to B, and that requires a whole ecosystem of connectivity which includes 5G networks.

On-site safety and efficiency

5G networks can enable Vision Zero and pave the way for increased efficiencies and optimised construction times. Imagine having ubiquitous access to complex 3D models on-site or being able to stream a live feed of as-built information directly into BIM systems. A 5G network can enable this, increasing collaboration, reducing time spent on site and driving efficiencies.

An advanced 5G network can improve site safety too through the use of real-time video analytics and highly accurate asset and personnel tracking – raising the alarm if someone is in a dangerous situation. The ultra-low latency of 5G also makes it possible to operate machinery remotely, paving the way for site automation.

Once construction is finished, all or part of the 5G network could be used during the operational phase. This is where the neutral-host network model comes in. The UK is leading the way in adopting this approach, which involves a third-party wholesale carrier setting up infrastructure and selling access to mobile operators and other partners. With 5G connectivity in place, people get internet access, new data-driven use cases open-up, and transport operators can generate a revenue stream which would enable them to reinvest into improving the quality and safety of the network.

Ultra-fast data processing/Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM)

To deliver the 5G benefits at scale, operators need to deploy Mobile Edge solutions which bring the end-user closer to the mobile core, thus realising ultra-low latency, ultra-fast data processing and hence the full potential of 5G.

Private networks, either 4G or 5G, can achieve this but with 5G, network slicing will make it even easier to prioritise certain users or uses, with operators able to assign guaranteed slices of the network. Even if a network goes down for everyone else, emergency services – for example, would still be able to use it. This provides economies of scale and opens up even more safety-critical use cases.

Cellular Vehicle to everything services (C-V2X) could for example be one network “slice” enabling:

  • Emergency hazard warning between autonomous and connected vehicles,
  • Improved adaptive and emergency breaking
  • Rapid download of HD mapping data
  • Realisation of Vehicle to Pedestrian safety services
  • Improved vehicle to infrastructure service performance for connected, semi and fully autonomous vehicles

Network of networks

Realising these benefits while at the same time meeting people’s need to be always connected, to have constant access to fast internet for work, information, and entertainment not only at home and but also on the move requires connectivity everywhere – even at hard-to-reach areas. Indeed, the UK Government aspires to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband as soon as possible and is aiming for most of the population to have 5G coverage by 2030.

The advent of 5G is certainly an opportunity to connect both people and the systems on which our transport networks rely, wherever they are. But while there are no insurmountable technical barriers to doing so, making the most of the opportunity will require a new mindset.

Instead of relying solely on the traditional mobile network operators to bring coverage to an area, network operators/service providers, vehicle manufacturers, and road operators need to work together.

Ubiquitous connectivity enabled by 5G is the real changemaker here. For example, one can have low earth orbit (LEO) satellites complementing terrestrial public or private 5G networks providing secure and resilient PNT (Positioning, Navigation and Timing) for advanced CAM services, such as collision avoidance, that require ultra-precise timing and location of vehicles.

A network of networks that allows anyone to be connected anywhere with a quality of service that meets their needs is the future. The first steps to realising this future have already begun with the rollout of 5G-SA core networks, trials involving the use of satellite 5G-technology and the acceleration of the delivery of nationwide gigabit-capable connectivity.