Kia mobility chief: 5G being baked into self-driving car plans

5G (pixabay)

LAS VEGAS—Kia Motors has a roadmap to building “Level 5” autonomous vehicles by 2030, and 5G wireless technology is an essential component of that plan.

“From a technical standpoint, you can have autonomous car without any connectivity, but you’re not going to realize its full potential without it,” said Henry Bzeih, managing director of connected and mobility for Kia, speaking today at a FierceWireless CES breakfast panel event discussing potential 5G use cases, sponsored by Ericsson and Qualcomm.

Bzeih said Kia expects to be building cars conforming to “Level 3” autonomy by 2020. These vehicles will enable drivers to safely turn their attention from driving tasks in known, limited environments such as freeways. By 2025, the company expects to be building cars that have “Level 4” capabilities—cars that will be mostly autonomous, save for conditions like inclement weather. 

To reach the Fully Monty of vehicle autonomy, Bzeih said vehicles must be enabled with wireless communications capabilities that provide very high reliability and extremely low latency. 

“We cannot achieve this with the current wireless technology,” he said. “There will be key features that simply won’t be available if 5G isn’t there.”

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Bzeih’s comments rebuke recent predictions by automotive IoT experts, who expect 5G implementation in vehicles to remain at zero as far out as 2022.

“It’s simply not affordable to build out 5G infrastructure along the roadway so that we know the nuances of every pothole,” Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts LLC, wrote in FierceWireless in November. "Common sense tells me that cars will synthesize the data into short messages that say things like 'pothole in Lane 2 at these coordinates'—instead of sending the entire 50 Mbps stream at all times.”

Today’s panel, which also included top carrier technology executives such as Sprint CTO Günther Ottendorfer and T-Mobile US VP of Technology Development and Strategy Karri Kuoppamaki, also briefly discussed other 5G use cases, such as virtual reality and remote surgery, applications that also call for high network density and very low latency.

“How much is a ticket to watch the game worth?" asked Arun Bansal, senior VP and head of business unit network products for Ericsson, noting the monetary potential of virtual reality of sporting events. 

However, the overriding consensus is that much as it occurred for LTE over the last decade, profitable use cases will emerge once the 5G ecosystem is built out. 

“There are use cases that we might not even envision at this time,” said Durga Malladi, senior VP of engineering for Qualcomm Technologies. 

Added Sprint’s Ottendorfer: “We need to build out the ecosystem first, and then we will be able to tell.”