Journey Notes, February 2021: A Note on Making a Statement with 5G

A recurring theme amongst our customers is the dichotomy between maintaining daily operations and planning for long-term success in an uncertain future. One trend that piqued our interest was the continued emphasis on understanding the effect of 5G on transport services.

While the term “5G” is generally used as a catch-all term for a single wireless technology; 5G is better described as the fifth and latest generation of multiple wireless communications standards and technologies. However, the difference between 5G and 4G LTE technologies is not nearly as pronounced as the leap in functionality between prior generations (i.e., 2G to 3G and 3G to 4G); it is best to think of 5G as an upgrade rather than a total overhaul, or in the words of Professor Claes Beckman of the Royal Institute of Technology “an evolution, not a revolution”.

5G promises higher capacity, lower latency, and greater throughput than 4G networks. But what does this mean for transport operators?

Because of some of the limitations of 5G, transport operators need to adopt a wider connectivity strategy, selecting the right technologies that will make the most of 5G’s eventual benefits, while continuing to resolve existing connectivity challenges well into the future.

Here are 9 ways to make the most of 5G as it rolls out:  

    1. Face reality: The existing connectivity challenges broadly remain unaffected. There is no difference in the technologies required to circumvent them, especially where lack of coverage and capacity along routes are concerned. 5G services will not work as expected if the underlying transport network cannot provide connectivity that meets the requirements of each service.
    1. Allow for integration: To leverage 5G connectivity, it is necessary to install onboard routers that are 5G capable. Careful with the nuances; this is not as simple as a modem upgrade. The ideal onboard mobile router houses multiple 5G modems, with a backplate capable of handling the full theoretical speed of all modems  – simultaneously. Installing routers that can intelligently aggregate all available network capacity, as well as antennas capable of fully supporting 5G, allows transport operators to leverage existing wireless communications standards and technologies –along with those introduced by 5G – to ensure fast, consistent, and cost-effective connectivity to vehicles, on-board systems, and passengers.
    1. Take the hybrid approach: The “5G/LTE-hybrid” approach maximizes the effectiveness of existing coverage and capacity, plugs gaps along the route, delivers more consistent performance, and closes the performance gap between rural and urban environments –all while factoring in the cost of accessing the networks. This approach facilitates cooperation between wireless carriers and transport operators, providing operators with better control over the data consumed, while opening a direct channel of communication with passengers, opening the door to new sources of revenue.
    1. Prepare for aggregation: To ensure a higher total available capacity and increased stability, antennas, multi-modem routers, and link-aggregation algorithms should all work together to utilize all available network capacity, delivering it seamlessly – without interruption – to passengers and onboard systems through a unified onboard network. A simple analogy: trains and buses are a more efficient means of carrying people over longer distances as compared to single-occupancy vehicles; an aggregated connection will carry more packets of data over time than individual connections, which may also suffer packet loss in handover. The benefits of carrier aggregation, like the efficiency of public transport, cannot be understated.
    1. Start secure: Anyone looking to modernize an existing public digital infrastructure system should seriously consider following the ISO 27001:2013 guidelines, as well as applying for the certification. Following the guidelines can keep your system secured to the highest standards and obtaining the certification can assure the public that every precaution is being taken with their information security. Providing this peace of mind is now more important than ever, as consumer doubt is at an all-time high regarding both government effectiveness and the validity of 5G systems.
    1. Get ready: To make the most of 5G connectivity, 5G-ready routers must support 10Gbps Ethernet. From routers to switches and access points, every part of the onboard network must support a higher data transfer rate between systems and devices; these factors are important, as an onboard network’s bandwidth is only as strong as its weakest link.
    1. Reduce and reuse: Transport operators planning for 5G should consider whether the vehicle antennas they currently use can take advantage of the 700 MHz band and the 2.3 GHz – 4.2 GHz range as they become available in combination with the required modulation scheme to reap the full benefits of 5G. 5G technology is backwards-compatible (i.e., 5G solutions will use the new frequency ranges as well as the previous LTE frequencies). While frequency may be a lesser concern, a proper design is essential – let us not forget about diversity: Each 5G modem features four antenna ports, totaling sixteen RF elements, capable of achieving the true 4×4 MIMO diversity required to access 5G networks.
    1. Think green: Andy Purdy, a Forbes Technology Council member, reminds us the equipment for 5G is extremely energy efficient, aligning with green mobility goals. For that reason, 5G promises to dramatically reduce the energy consumption in telecom networks and across a range of industries, shrinking the carbon footprint and contributing to the fight against climate change. Already, more than 100 5G networks have been launched around the world. As the 5G rollout continues, the energy savings will multiply. The telecom industry is confident that it can reach the milestone of zero emissions largely because the 5G specifications developed by 3GPP call for a 90% reduction in energy use as compared to 4G technologies.
    1. Be patient: 5G requires a major infrastructure investment and is initially being deployed in dense urban centers. The infrastructure upgrade entails many complexities and subsequently will take some time to utilize a fully pervasive 5G network nationwide.

At Icomera, we have long stood as the purveyor of The Connected Journey – a vision that began advising transport operators on their digital transportation strategies and evolved into the deployment of integrated solutions that recognize the full potential of connectivity to achieve business objectives.

Our team works with transport operators globally to adopt a broader connectivity strategy, investing in the right technologies that will deliver reliable connectivity today, with an eye to the opportunities of tomorrow.