While autonomous vehicles are gaining huge attention from all sectors, there is little assessment of what they mean for the telecoms sector. Based on a series of discussions with players in different roles in the value chain, and our own analysis, Analysys Mason believes that, while autonomous vehicles may have a transformative impact on society, their impact on the telecoms industry is likely to be modest, says Tom Rebbeck, research director, enterprise & IoT at Analysys Mason.
Autonomous cars will turn drivers into passengers, generating new demand for telecoms operators’ services
Autonomous vehicles are unlikely to rely on telecoms networks, despite the often-made association between 5G and autonomous driving: self-driving cars will depend more on on-board processing than the cloud. Real-time connectivity will be beneficial, but not essential.
Telecoms networks will be used for non-real-time updates to and from the vehicle (such as traffic information, mapping information and software updates), but bandwidth requirements for these services may be (relatively) low.
However, autonomous motoring will turn drivers into passengers, and potentially into consumers of video, gaming and audio content – all of which could generate new demand for telecoms operators’ services. The time frames for these developments this will be long: fully autonomous vehicles may not form the majority of vehicles until after 2030, depending on technology developments, regulation and consumer acceptance.
Figure 1 summarises the main opportunities for telecoms operators with autonomous cars.
Autonomous cars do not need wide-area connectivity
Self-driving vehicles rely on information coming from their on-board sensors (for example, radar, lidar, optical) to navigate because cellular services cannot always be guaranteed to be reliable. Information from a wide-area connection will help supplement the on-board data, perhaps giving additional information about the actions and intentions of other vehicles, but the vehicle will never be dependent on that information.
This is essentially the way that experimental autonomous cars are working today – information from on-board sensors is combined with highly detailed (up to 10cm) maps. These maps can be updated, in non-real time, using a cellular connection (or via a Wi-Fi connection and fixed broadband).
Developments in ‘vehicle-to-everything’ (V2X) technology will not change this. The information available to the autonomous car will become richer, but will only act as a supplement to on-board systems. V2X could have other impacts though: unlike today’s experimental autonomous cars, which each act as an isolated unit, V2X technology could allow different vehicles to act in concert – for example allowing vehicle platooning or smoother traffic flows in cities.
Bandwidth requirements are hard to calculate, but may be (relatively) low
Intel created some interest by suggesting that autonomous cars will generate 4TB of data per day. However, this figure needs to be treated carefully. Based on the inputs provided by Intel, it seems this figure is based on a car driving for at least 15 hours a day – reasonable for the average self-driving Uber perhaps, but unlikely for a typical private car.
Intel’s 4TB figure must also be treated with caution because it is the amount of data that needs […]