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5G Will Make the Connected Car Possible — but There’s a Catch

5G Will Make the Connected Car Possible — but There’s a Catch

We’re all waiting for the connected car of the future, it’s a major milepost on the road to full autonomy. The convenience of connectivity requires huge amounts of data transfer between cars and infrastructure and new 5G networks will make that possible. But, nobody is talking about the downsides associated with 5G. The fifth generation of cellular networks will require more base stations and far more energy.

  • 5G is the fifth generation of cellular networks and just recently began limited rollout, it’s one of the technologies making the connected car possible.
  • The next gen system uses shorter wavelength radio waves and can operate 20 times faster than the current 4G networks.
  • 5G uses multiple-input multiple-output(MIMO) antennas which will require far more base stations in the network.
  • It is possible to optimize the new system to be more efficient per amount of data transmitted, but we will likely just find ways to use more bandwidth.
The connected car is coming
The connected car promises to make driving more efficient and passengers more productive, but at what cost? (Photo: Getty Images)

Consumers want connected cars. We want real time traffic data and streaming music. We want over the air car updates and our cars to tell the dealership what’s wrong with them, and to schedule an appointment. We even want to order pizzas from our dashboards – apparently. In the future, we want even more. Imagine no traffic lights because autonomous cars will work out who needs to go what speed so nobody has to stop at an intersection. Someday, they will even tell each other about potholes in the road so other cars can avoid them. Our cars will be texting back and forth like teenagers sitting across a table from each other at Starbucks.

Most cellular networks are currently using 4G, or fourth generation technology. Admit it, you didn’t know that’s what 4G means. It operates on the radio frequencies between 700 MHz and 6 GHz and on its best day, 4G can deliver 50 megabytes per second data downloading. 5G on the other hand, operates on frequencies between 24 and 86 GHz. The latest and greatest fifth generation technology, which is being rolled out as we speak, will eventually be capable of delivering more than a gigabyte per second to the phone in your hot little hand. If you’re wondering; it usually takes about 10 minutes to download an entire movie onto your current phone with 4G, the same movie would take less than a minute on 5G. Imagine what your car could do.

Obviously, this all sounds great. But there is always a downside, right? 5G being a shorter wave length, doesn’t travel as far. That means service providers like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, etc. will all need to build more cellular towers to cover the same amount of area. Not only that, but 5G uses what are called multi-input / multi-output, MIMO antennas. These are arrays of multiple antennas, which all require controlling hardware. So, more stations, each with more antennas and more hardware for those antennas all adds up to more power usage.

Intelligent vehicle cockpit and wireless communication network concept

Although large amounts of data transfer between cars and infrastructure, and even car to car will be required for autonomous driving, consumers are demanding more an more connectivity in their vehicles for everything from traffic data to ordering food and paying for gas. (Photo: Getty Images)

You might be saying, but we can move so much more data in the same amount of time, that has to save some power. It will, especially since unlike current 4G devices which stay in nearly constant communication with the network, 5G devices have the ability to “sleep” when not transmitting or receiving data.

Ultimately however, every time we have big jumps in data transmission speeds, we find new ways to fill that bandwidth. Connected cars obviously represent a large chunk of where that data will come from. But, we can also expect all sorts of new connected devices with the further emergence of the Internet of Things (IOT). Soon, all devices from shared-mobility scooters to your toaster will be connected. All will be sending and receiving data.


Everyone from manufacturers down to the end users are pushing – or being pushed – to make vehicles as efficient and clean as possible. But while things like the connected car promise to deliver cleaner commuting via less traffic and making people more efficient, are we just pushing some of that energy consumption off on the data network serving the cars? 5G promises to make a huge difference in our digital lives, but ultimately, we’re still faced with reality of less traveling is still the answer.


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