In late 2018, AT&T announced a standards-based, mobile 5G network in parts of 12 U.S. cities, with seven more areas to follow. The company also said it was on the verge of bringing 5G Evolution technologies to 400 markets, enabling faster speeds, wider coverage and lower latency, which improves streaming capabilities. Verizon, meanwhile, has been making strides of its own, announcing Verizon 5G Home – billed as “the world’s first commercial 5G broadband internet service” – last fall.
Some have eagerly awaited these advances and their impact on connectivity, communication and possibility. Others? They may be impressed that what’s long been talked about appears to finally have arrived.
Lou Vella, telematics product development manager for fleet management company ARI (www.arifleet.com), said it’s still difficult to say how 5G will impact operations for utility fleets. But possibilities are beginning to emerge – and not just in terms of autonomous and semiautonomous vehicles.
“As the technology continues to evolve, companies are finding new, innovative ways to leverage increased network speeds,” Vella said. “These higher speeds make it viable and affordable to implement technology, such as in-cab video, as a means to supplement traditional telematics data and provide further insights into driver performance. As 5G networks become more widely available, I believe the immediacy of data, combined with the amount of data available, will fuel further innovations that will be leveraged to improve performance of both the vehicles and their drivers.”
Mobeen Khan, assistant vice president of IoT Solutions for AT&T (www.att.com), also speaks of the possibilities of near real-time video feed, akin to video surveillance. In addition to providing almost immediate feedback about routes, driver behavior, and safety of the driver, vehicle and any cargo or auxiliary equipment, he said, it could help with accident information or reconstruction. “That can happen and can be deployed at a high capacity with the 5G introduction.”
Because 5G has a wider bandwidth for data, the connection between driver and equipment can be much more seamless.
“We are deploying the carrier services, the network services, at a pretty aggressive rate,” Khan said. “However, to utilize all of these capabilities, you will need the cameras and vehicle devices to utilize the 5G capability, and then the software to be able to deploy these services.”
Some of these applications are already in beta testing, Khan said, and with video feeds in particular, he anticipates the introduction of video-based analytics for fleets supported by 5G in the near future. “Now, in terms of actual proliferation of this into fleets, especially public, that’s more complicated,” he said. There’s the life cycle of the fleet to consider, for example, in addition to regulatory and insurance structures to work through.
“It’s going to be a journey over the next few years to start to get the real benefit of 5G into the fleet world,” Khan said.
Keep an Eye Out
So, does that mean the forward-thinking public fleet professional should simply put off further investigation? Not so fast. Khan suggested utility fleet professionals keep an eye on two things: integration and augmentation of the fleet with video services. “That is a must-do,” he said. “It does really provide additional benefits to you.”
Where applicable, Khan also suggested watching the way 5G is incorporated into asset-tracking devices. The high-speed, low-power wide area networks of 5G will mean longer battery life and lower costs. In retail, for example, this could translate to a tracking device on every pallet; possibilities for fleets and auxiliary equipment are up for grabs.
At ARI, meanwhile, Vella advises utility fleets to “ensure that their preferred telematics service provider is ready to quickly adopt the 5G technology. We also recommend that utility fleet professionals themselves prepare to embrace the enhancements 5G is poised to deliver and begin considering the opportunities – and challenges – that will accompany this increased operational insight.”
As with previous evolutions in telematics communications, Vella said, ARI is doing its part to prepare for what’s on the horizon.
“With 5G technology very much top of mind for many in the industry, we’re working to optimize our ability to integrate the increased flow of data along with our capabilities to transform that data into actionable information,” he said. “We also recognize that some of the critical operational data captured by a comprehensive telematics program is best leveraged directly by our clients, so we’re also ensuring that our user interfaces are capable of providing access to this data quickly and easily.”
About the Author: Fiona Soltes is a longtime freelance writer based just outside Nashville, Tennessee. Her clients have represented a variety of sectors, including fleet, engineering, technology, logistics, business services, retail, disaster preparedness and material handling. Prior to her freelance career, Soltes worked as a staff writer at newspapers in Tennessee and Texas.
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