How 5G will revolutionize the transport industry

Rabih Arzouni, CTO Transport at Fujitsu in EMEIA, writing from the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, where one of the hottest topics on everybody’s lips is the imminent availability of 5G mobile connectivity and the way it will shape our future.

As everyone here in Barcelona this week will tell you, the new mobile internet standard 5G has the potential to change the world. For most of us, that means doing everything we use mobile data for today, only faster, more reliably and more efficiently. But there are some applications where the huge increase in data capability will have a more significant effect – and the transport industry is one of those.

The reason for all this excitement is that 5G offers significantly faster download speeds than 4G networks – estimates vary, but we’re talking about at least 100MB per second, which is a whopping ten times faster than 4G speeds.

Thanks to such a performance boost, I believe one of the areas where there will be the greatest transformation is transportation – because such an enormous increase in mobile bandwidth will be a key driver for the continuing evolution of autonomous vehicles, and their entire ecosystems.

What comes next?

Currently, most of the development effort for autonomous vehicles is centered around ensuring that they learn how to navigate their way through the streets safely. But once that challenge has been addressed, what comes next? I can tell you. Once we have solved the safety challenge, we’ll be able to start addressing something that blights everyone’s lives – and that’s traffic congestion itself.

Today, smart routing is in its infancy, yet already provides some compelling benefits. Who hasn’t checked traffic congestion on a planned journey – and then changed their route, or made other plans after seeing that an accident or an unusually high volume of traffic means you’re just going to sit in a traffic jam?

Smartphone mapping apps – and some in-car navigation systems – already offer basic dynamic route calculation, which is great when you’re on a journey of several hundred miles, but less useful when you’re five miles from your office and stuck in a traffic snarl-up in rush hour.

These devices use algorithms to calculate an optimal route to your destination, based primarily on data shared by other travelers, as well as other sources of information, such as weather reports.

But anyone who has used one of these applications will also be familiar with its limitations – for example, the frustrating inability to select a faster route when it involves initially heading in the wrong direction from a destination.

Human centric innovation

The advent of 5G networks will enable breakthroughs in route planning and optimization, taking intelligent routing to an entirely new level. I’m not talking just about taking into account the status of traffic and weather on a proposed route, but many additional ‘softer’ metrics. For example, routing that is able to take into account the detrimental effect on a local neighborhood from the additional air or noise pollution caused by growing traffic volumes, and the risks of larger amounts of traffic using back streets as short cuts, or cars driving past schools at times of day when there are very likely to be children on the streets.

Although 5G will solve the bandwidth issue of collecting all the data involved in taking all these new variables into account, there’s also the matter of actually weighing up all the possibilities and finding the best possible route. The more variables we introduce, the more potential routes need to be taken into consideration – and therefore, the calculations become more challenging. Very quickly, adding just a handful of new variables, you end up with highly-complex calculations. So complex, in fact, that you will have already arrived at your destination, done a day’s work and gone home again, and a conventional computer will still be working out your optimum route.

Given that any given situation is fluid, for any traffic routing to be effective it must be constantly reevaluated and recalculated based on new information – and this requires even more processing.

Although we are becoming extremely adept at accumulating vast lakes of data relating to every conceivable variable, the main problem we’re facing is that today’s computers are simply not up to the task of factoring in all these variables. In fact, 5G is only going to make matter worse, since adding significant new value by enhancing route planning also brings enormous additional complexity.

The most advanced technology to solve combinatorial optimization problems

This takes us into the realm of needing to solve complex combinatorial problems – and it’s an area where Fujitsu is leading the world, with some revolutionary, quantum computing-inspired technology – the Fujitsu Digital Annealer.

Looking 20 years into the future, we’ll take the power of quantum computing for granted, but that’s not going to help get you to work on time any time soon. When quantum computing does become mainstream, we will be able to weigh up an almost infinite number of potential options all at once, and to find the fastest route. Quantum superposition allows objects to be in multiple states at once – making it possible to calculate all possible combinations simultaneously. Unfortunately, this exciting technology is still far from ready for primetime.

As research into quantum computing continues, there is actually a solution able to do this today, drawing on the principles of quantum computing to solve combinatorial problems faster.

Leapfrog many generations of Moore’s Law

This revolutionary approach is able to leapfrog many generations of Moore’s Law by combining the advances in quantum software with Fujitsu’s expertise in silicon architectures and supercomputers. The result is the Fujitsu Digital Annealer, a stable, easily deployable solution, optimized to solve complex combinatorial problems. Unique simultaneous data processing capabilities allow the Fujitsu Digital Annealer to instantly find the optimal combination of massively complex, previously unmanageable data variables.

The Digital Annealer’s radical and innovative approach changes the landscape. It means the transport industry – as well as other market sectors, from finance to manufacturing – is in a position to solve problems that could not previously be addressed, and even some that we didn’t even know existed!

It’s not difficult to imagine that in just a few years from now, your autonomous car will pick you up and drive you to a destination via a route that takes into consideration not just your journey time, but also the impact of that journey on a much wider eco-system – including the environment, other people and the communities you will travel through.

It is this human-centric approach that is the hallmark of Fujitsu’s technology philosophy – a focus on applying technology intelligently to benefit both individuals and society at large. This ethos is backed by an impeccable technology pedigree that spans the widest possible portfolio of enterprise solutions. This combination gives us a laser-like focus on helping customers solve their real-world problems, and build value, while also positively benefiting the wider community.