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TECHNOLOGY | 05.08.2020

“5G technology in transportation opens a window for connectivity in developing countries”

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José Francisco Monserrat, researcher at Universidad Politécnica de Valencia and advisor to the World Bank on transportation and 5G

“Nearly 20 countries around the world lack 4G connectivity, thus excluding these populations from the opportunities offered by digitalization, such as online education. If we invest in transportation, and provide 5G access at the same time, people will be able to enjoy increased connectivity and benefit in many different ways,” explains José Francisco Monserrat, professor at Universidad Politécnica de Valencia. This researcher (Madrid, 1980) is working on a report on behalf of the World Bank to verify the economic impact of 5G in the transportation sector of developing countries.

With this report, Monserrat and his team from the Institute of Telecommunications and Multimedia Applications (iTEAM) will attempt to see to what extent adequate investment from the World Bank or governments in transportation and 5G can be positive for society, for the growth of the country and, at the same time, ensure a viable economic return. Thus, on the one hand, they will deploy 5G at traffic lights in Sao Paulo and, on the other, they will prepare an economic study on the cost to roll out this technology on Kenya’s roads.

“The World Bank has a lot of projects to invest in traffic lights because there are many countries where they do not exist, and they are also a good way to simultaneously deploy fiber Internet and create a 5G access point. It’s a good way to overcome the connectivity barrier in developing countries,” says Monserrat, who uses Bangladesh as an example: “It’s one of the world’s largest textile producers and it has a wonderful port, but then you see donkeys carrying things in bundles, packages are lost or arrive late, etc. Their local transportation is quite poor. As soon as this improves, production will improve greatly, the economy will be freed, and if we simultaneously integrate 5G while improving transportation, a window to global connectivity is opened.”

Optimizing logistics

The big drawback — Monserrat continues — is that, as these are developing countries, operators are not economically profitable and governments have to be persuaded to make an effort and participate in public-private investments or agreements to deploy this 5G network.

If, in addition to being 5G nodes, traffic lights and roads are connected by artificial intelligence to cars and other infrastructures, this would enable the development of intelligent systems to make transportation as efficient as possible. “In Nairobi, we will investigate the logistics for trucks that transport fish. Real-time traceability involving a large number of items requires the connectivity of millions and millions of devices that’s not possible with 4G, but is with 5G.”

This ability to monitor everything, known as mass Wireless IoT (Internet of Things) would enable Bangladesh to link millions of trucks and cyclists individually transporting packages with clients to ensure that trucks are never empty. “Right now, 30 percent of the time the carrier is operating empty, making transportation less efficient and consuming more energy,” says Monserrat.

The World Bank also wants to find out what benefits autonomous vehicles can have in large countries with high levels of exports but with poor transportation. With connected 5G traffic lights, vehicles can adjust their speed. This greatly reduces energy consumption. “Autonomous vehicles will not reach peak performance until they are connected and can communicate with other vehicles and infrastructure (signs, traffic lights, etc.). And that’s where 5G plays a key role. Autonomous vehicles can only reach this peak through connectivity. Connection with other vehicles and the environment will allow the creation of joint routes and avoid traffic congestion, since vehicles will adapt their speed to the posted limit,” Monserrat stresses.

Cities with shared public transportation

As a 5G expert, Monserrat envisions cities with a plethora of connected things that might seem difficult for us to imagine, such as trash cans or dumpsters that communicate with trucks to ensure they are only emptied when necessary. “Street lights will be connected. Traffic lights will be connected to vehicles and the time will come when connected vehicles will adjust their speeds to avoid an accident.”

In this exploration of cities in the coming decades, the biggest change that 5G will bring will be shared cars as a form of public transportation, according to the professor. In Monserrat’s opinion, we are moving toward a hybrid model of public and private transportation because this can be provided by smaller vehicles that only carry a few people, but are available for public use. “It will be like having a lot more taxis than we do now. These shared vehicles will be able to pick up me, my next-door neighbor, and the one down the road because we will all be connected and the vehicle will know where we want to go and what our movements are. This will make mobility much more efficient.”

This phase with shared vehicles “will change cities substantially in 20 years. There will be much fewer cars and these will be shared. And, in the end, that shared car will always be full. That’s why the number of cars will decrease by five times, or even more. We call this mobility as a service,” says Monserrat, who says in no uncertain terms: “an electrified, autonomous, connected, and shared car will represent a 50 percent savings in energy. By considerably reducing the number of vehicles in circulation, we will be able to save almost 97 percent of energy by 2050.” Figures that are unthinkable today, despite the rise in electric vehicles.