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Driverless Cars Hampered in UK by Poor 4G Mobile Broadband

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019 (10:51 am) - Score 1,399

The latest KPMG report into the readiness of countries for the adoption of driverless cars (autonomous vehicles) has seen the United Kingdom fall two places to be ranked 7th overall, which is just behind Sweden and Finland. Apparently we’re being hampered by poor infrastructure, particularly 4G mobile coverage and road quality.

The 2019 Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index ranks 25 countries by four key categories of progress, including policy & legislation, technology & innovation, infrastructure and consumer acceptance. The United Kingdom actually does quite well for most of the criteria except infrastructure.

On infrastructure the UK suffers due to a high proportion of problems with potholes on small local streets and one of the lowest scores for 4G coverage. Autonomous vehicles tend to work best when they’re able to communicate with similar vehicles and modern traffic systems, but that obviously requires a mobile broadband connection and there we have a problem.

KPMG Report Statement

“The UK faces challenges concerning digital and physical infrastructure, especially since investments in this sector take time to bear fruit. It lags behind other countries in 4G coverage, global connectivity, quality of roads (especially smaller roads) and logistics infrastructure. Promisingly, extensive investments are being made in 5G to connect 5G test beds and test tracks.”

Ofcom’s latest Connected Nations 2018 report found that the outdoor geographic coverage of 4G services across the UK remains painfully low at 66% (up from 43%) from all four mobile operators or 91% from at least one operator (EE), although operators are working to improve on that.

In particular the forthcoming auction of the 700MHz band will come attached to a new coverage obligation for two operators (here), which should extend outdoor data coverage to at least 90% of the UK’s entire land area and provide coverage from at least 500 new mobile mast stations in rural areas, among other things. Some operators, such as EE, are already aiming to achieve 95% geographic 4G coverage by December 2020 or a little later.

Country 2019 Score
The Netherlands 25.05
Singapore 24.32
Norway 23.75
United States 22.58
Sweden 22.48
Finland 22.28
United Kingdom 21.58
Germany 21.15
United Arab Emirates 20.69
Japan 20.53
New Zealand 19.87
Canada 19.8
South Korea 19.79
Israel 19.6
Australia 19.01
Austria 18.85
France 18.46
Spain 15.5
Czech Republic 14.46
China 14.41
Hungary 11.99
Russia 8.55
Mexico 7.73
India 6.87
Brazil 6.41

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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10 Responses
  1. CarlT says:

    I have no idea why this would be a surprise to anyone. Many other nations make allowances and investments with horizons of decades, we look as far as which group of the electorate needs bribing every 5 years.

    Our infrastructure money went in tax cuts and handouts to certain client groups.

  2. Optimist says:

    So, it’s illegal to use a mobile phone while driving, unless the car is driverless, in which case it’s a requirement!

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      They’re talking about technology built into the car itself, not your personal mobile.

    2. Joe says:

      I think they were joking Mark.

      Though as a point of fact its perfectly legal to use a phone as long as its not hand held. Though due to the idiotically specific legislation its legal to use a walkie talkie in your hand (technically there is a proper control argument but no one get prosecuted.)

  3. Phil says:

    I don’t see how mobile connections are such a requirement for driver-less cars. For a start you can never guarantee a data connection regardless of the countries connectivity ranking, so a car can’t be reliant on any data connection for any real-time decisions. Then there is latency, not just the time it takes to send data over the network (measured in milliseconds) but any other car that wants to make use of that data, has to get to the same place or location first, that may take seconds or many minutes, by which time any data required for any autonomous driving decision making is out of date anyway.

    Yes data connectivity is useful for feeding back general traffic conditions for route planning (which we already have, TomTom’s traffic service, for example reporting stationary vehicles or congestion, is often accurate to a few metres), or general data collection to put towards improved mapping etc, but none of this requires 100% coverage of a mobile network or low latency connections.

    No autonomous car will require low latency or permanent data connections, or use such connections when available for anything other than non-realtime conversations with a data centre somewhere or streaming Spotify!

    1. 125us says:

      Phil – the requirement is so that cars can share sensor data in real-time to ‘see’ further ahead and plan beyond the immediate range of the vehicle’s own sensors. There’s also a requirement to constantly update, and receive updates from, a ‘decision’ database held in the cloud, as well as talking to remote systems that plan traffic flow on behalf of councils or government. Driverless cars can work autonomously for a period, but that’s not how they’re designed to work long term.

    2. Phil says:

      Hi @125us, exactly which doesn’t require 5G or low latency. If sensor data is gathered from vehicles ahead of me, that data is already out of date by the amount of time it takes me to reach the same point. No car will use a mobile phone connection to make real time decisions or use a cloud database to do so as what happens when the network is unavailable, will all cars just break to a halt or suddenly become more prone to accidents?

    3. Blueacid says:

      I disagree that the data will be ‘out of date’ if not instant.
      Suppose there’s a diesel spill on a roundabout. A car 30 seconds ahead of you discovers it’s very slippery & the ESP has to cut in to correct a slip, therefore needs to advise following cars to slow down.

      Getting that data rapidly distributed to following vehicles is useful, and the report of slippery conditions might stay valid for hours or even days.

      But imagine if the coverage around there was sluggish, congested 2G or 3G. The speed of connection and the overall capacity of the network needs to be sufficient.

      Without any connection, sure, a self-driving car should be able to cope – but it might decide to take a more cautious approach if it’s unable to be sure of the conditions on the road ahead.

  4. Nobroadband says:

    Why does everyone won’t to jump before they can walk.
    We can’t even have trains with out guards let alone driverless trains.
    And All everyone is talking about is driverless car.. Crazy

  5. Sev says:

    Can someone familiar (roughly) with the technology requirements explain why a cellular data connection is required at all?

    Will an autonomous vehicle actually RELY on a shared database of road layout, etc?

    Is a continuous connection required, or merely one that is available regularly enough for frequent updates?

    Surely the vehicle is not expected to interact with other vehicles on the road via cellular data? “Autonomous vehicles tend to work best when they’re able to communicate with similar vehicles”

    What about the vast number of legacy, unconnected vehicles? Pedestrians? Motorcycles, bicycles?

    Is this just about routefinding, or is a feature which contributes to safety? Will it be less safe to be in the vicinity of an autonomous vehicle which has no “peers” in the vicinity?

    I’m fed up with being run over by drivers, I don’t want to start being run over by robots.

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