The introduction of 5G promises to seriously shake up the relationship we have gotten used to with technology in our homes, workspaces, and even on the road. The wireless technology, thought to be 100 times faster than 4G LTE (according to CTIA), carries the potential to provide us with practical pathways to technology that until recently was dismissed as the stuff of science fiction.
A future that sees self-piloted vehicles making cross-country journeys safely and efficiently. Human freight managers working alongside deep-learning machines which analyze data from their fleet of 100 trucks to make real-time alterations that give their business the competitive edge. 5G has the potential to change the entire transportation ecosystem, and help individual fleets thrive through both their multiple daily challenges, and overall business ambitions.
A recent study suggests that by 2035, 5G will be helping to support the production of $13.2 trillion of goods and services across a broad range of industries. But how is this likely to affect businesses specializing in trucking and logistics? We’ll take a look at some of the expected applications, and potential issues.
The subject of automated vehicles is certainly contentious. For many of us, safety is a primary concern, and one of the central aspects that could drive widespread engagement with the technology. Still, it is possible that vehicle automation could improve safety in trucking. Given that studies (NHTSA) show that in 2014 there were 846 fatalities (2.6% of all fatalities) caused by driver fatigue, elements of automation could make for a valuable co-pilot.
In order for automated fleets to become a feature on our roads, onboard safety software will need to be able to receive uninterrupted data from sensors which provide real-time analysis of road conditions and behavior of other drivers. The advent of 5G could usher in minimized latency and constant connectivity. Not only will onboard safety systems receive uninterrupted data, but autonomous fleets will be connected to other vehicles on the road. With the adoption of 5G, vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication becomes a real possibility. Each vehicle on the road would share data on speeds, traffic and routes, essentially making every autonomous truck in the fleet aware of its own surroundings.
It’s worth considering, however, it is not expected that transport and logistics operations will be entirely autonomous any time soon — even with 5G networks. As reported by The Guardian, those in the industry hold firm that the infrastructure just isn’t there at the moment. Widespread coverage of 5G networks would be a necessity, which would require the kind of significant investment — $2.7 trillion by the end of 2020 according to some reports.
There will still be a need for drivers with niche expertise, such as those who have taken the hazmat test to gain an endorsement on their license. While 5G may assist in safe delivery, it’s always worth remembering that drivers do more than simply pilot their vehicle. 5G-enhanced tech could support drivers’ valuable qualifications and experience. Cheaper sensors could provide Hazmat drivers with reliable data on the condition of their loads, and early warnings for any potentially dangerous changes. We are already seeing the potential for manufacturers to utilize 5G reliably to communicate with robotic machinery, and there is certainly scope to apply this to the transportation of dangerous materials, avoiding the need for human workers to have close contact.
Communication and the supply chain
5G has the potential to transform vital freight industry communications while on the road. There is an expectation that wireless service speeds will be significant, even in areas where there is high demand that puts pressure on current networks. This could mean a reduction in delays and improvements in efficiency for online freight exchange users and communications with fleet managers. For example, information on unusual weather or emergency road conditions experienced by one vehicle could be immediately communicated to the entire fleet, with solutions potentially supported by AI software.
But perhaps the biggest expected impact will be with regard to the internet of things (IoT) — our ecosystem of smart, connected objects. 5G will be capable of handling and transferring massive amounts of data. From a logistics standpoint, each item of cargo will be able to provide sensor-fed data on every aspect of its journey, including precise location. Not only will this help assist in cargo theft, but can also be analyzed to devize strategies that can prevent efficiency leakage, and potentially even where improvements need to be made for safer handling.
Regulatory compliance and vehicle tracking
Particularly in recent years, fleets have become only too aware of how regulatory changes can become disruptive. Though it is inarguably important for safety reasons, the requirement to introduce compliant electronic logging devices (ELDs) certainly caused a headache for some fleets. Unfortunately, it may be the case that 5G presents further problems — unless infrastructure is put in place to allow the new networks to be backward compatible to current 4GLite devices, fleets may have to undergo upgrades.
Still, 5G offers enormous potential for fleets who are willing to utilize telematics technology for more than simple regulatory compliance. The insurance industry is already using diagnostic plug-ins, such as the SmartRide device, to collect data about drivers’ behavior, and make real-time decisions regarding risk and premiums. 5G is expected to provide improved geolocation and allow for real-time tracking even in remote locations where coverage isn’t necessarily guaranteed with current networks.
Conclusion and challenges
5G is on its way, and undoubtedly presents some exciting potential. But, as with any new technology, we can’t really know the full extent of the possibilities and problems until we are able to explore it further. We already live in a world in which cybercrime is a constant threat, and we must certainly take time to understand how to approach system security. Though we will benefit from faster speeds and greater connectivity, we must also ask whether this could result in faster breaches and do our due diligence to protect fleets accordingly.