Telecom operator Vodafone Germany said that it has steered the first driverless train with its 5G network at the Smart Rail Connectivity Campus. The new mobile technology enabled bandwidths of more than 500 Mbps on the test track and reduced latency to less than 10 milliseconds.
Vodafone remotely controlled the train using 5G network slicing. This allows different virtual networks to share a physical network structure. For the field test, Vodafone provided a separately tailored 5G network, so that optimal mobile radio capacities can always be available for remote control of the train, even if many users in the immediate vicinity use the network. In addition, the data is processed directly on-site in a Mobile Edge Cloud (MEC).
We have heard a great deal lately about the emerging technology of driverless cars and how 5G can make them more effective. However, we feel that driverless trains represent an excellent opportunity for operators to implement 5G, and in fact a less risky opportunity.
While there are various interpretations of the term “driverless” when it comes to motor vehicles (partial or full-assist automatic driving), there are serious risks involved in drivers giving up control to automated systems. News reports have recently informed us about serious and even fatal accidents involving driverless cars, and while the technology may eventually succeed in the marketplace, at the moment the public and municipalities have concerns that these cars may not be safe enough. So by investing heavily in 5G-powered driverless cars, MNOs may be gambling to a certain extent with their public image and their brands.
On the other hand, passengers on a train have already ceded control to the rail company, the train conductors and the automation technologies that the trains currently implement to avoid collisions. A fully automated 5G solution would simply be an extension of this situation. Therefore, by building business along the lines of what Vodafone is planning in Germany, MNOs could be cultivating a major source of revenue without as many risks—not only actual safety risks but the risk to their image as purveyors of reliable and safe products for consumers.