Gambling capital of the world and a major hub for some of the world’s biggest conferences, Las Vegas attracts a nonstop flow of visitors and constant activity regardless of whether it’s related to leisure or business. It is the quintessential venue to meet and showcase new products, services and technologies. What could be a better place than Las Vegas to demonstrate the coming of the connected car? This week is the Mobile Carriers Show, last week was the National Automobile Dealers Association Show, and in January there was CES – big-time conferences with news breaking announcements. So is Vegas’s mobile network infrastructure prepared to support connected vehicles – is it ready to showcase this fast emerging technology?
It would appear so! Consider the number of global firsts that the city plays host to each year. During January last year around CES, the first electric autonomous shuttle was launched while manufacturers like BMW introduced their own self-driving vehicles that took journalists and volunteers around the city. Audi also contributed to Las Vegas’s technological prowess by launching the first smart city technology to connect its traffic signal network to vehicles over LTE.
Connected vehicles are reliant on mobile networks to transfer data and the more autonomous the vehicle is – the greater the volume of data needed (i.e., needed for telemetry, live traffic information, and HD video). This is just so cars can move safely from point A to point B. There are other data demands as well that drivers and passengers will add on top – from in-car entertainment like Netflix streaming to the kids in the passenger seat to an integrated Alexa voice assistant providing directions or music to Mom or Dad in the front. Further, in the future, fully autonomous cars will communicate with each other given no human input; real-time data along with other critical data that will be hosted and analyzed in the cloud.
Las Vegas has introduced some of these connected car features using existing 4G networks particularly in terms of “vehicle to infrastructure” applications. Ultimately, however, it will be the evolution to 5G that is most important for a completely autonomous deployment. 5G’s minimal latency and higher throughputs are also essential requirements for safely road testing and conducting driverless demonstrations on a much larger scale. In terms of timing, T-Mobile recently announced that Las Vegas will be one of the first cities that it connects to 5G (projected in early 2019) while Verizon is currently updating its infrastructure in Las Vegas to eventually accommodate 5G network equipment.
It appears that mobile networks across the U.S. are in a good position to transition to 5G. We found in our own drive tests that operators provided 4G LTE coverage 86% to 97% of the time on most major highways. We collected over 52,000 miles worth of data across the entire continental U.S. Not only is LTE available across a significant portion of our main thoroughfares but we also saw active use of advanced LTE features such as such as 256 QAM, 4-way MIMO, and carrier aggregation (features that get you one step closer to 5G).
Las Vegas isn’t the only city leading the way in connected car infrastructure development, San Jose, Ann Arbor, Boston and others are also heavily involved and actively working with mobile, automotive and transportation vendors, manufacturers and developers. These cities are becoming important test beds for connected car applications, for new mobile network deployments, and for smart city integration. On a daily basis, one connected car may require several terabytes of data to be sent and received constantly and nearly instantaneously across many platforms and systems. When you multiply this by the number of vehicles currently on the roads, the vast amount of data required over mobile networks becomes extraordinary. But mobile network operators, city planners and other involved entities are taking this once futuristic idea and realistically assessing and testing the data processing required, the infrastructure needed, as well as the complexity of systems needed to ensure reliable connectivity. The net result is that connected cars may well be both literally and figuratively around the corner.