The rollout of 5G is gaining momentum as more people start using 5G-enabled phones and devices around the world. China and European countries are ahead of the U.S. when it comes to implementing 5G, but progress is being made daily with 5G already available in dozens of major U.S. cities. On a global scale, estimates forecast that by 2025, we'll reach 3.6 billion 5G connections — a number expected to grow to 4.4 billion by 2027.
While most people are aware 5G will help us all browse faster, it also improves the implementation of modern technologies, including smart public transportation. The significant improvements 5G delivers in terms of ultra-low latency, high connection density, increased traffic capacity, and more can help with the deployment of smart sensors and devices to transform how people use public transportation.
Wide adoption of 5G enabled public transportation technologies is still far off, especially in the U.S., but as the adoption of 5G begins to accelerate, it’s important to consider what the smart public transportation systems of the future can look like.
Thanks to the super-high-frequency airwaves (high-band spectrum) that 5G networks rely on, more data can be transmitted faster between different devices. This allows more devices to be connected to a network without sacrificing bandwidth and creates the opportunity to introduce large scale IoT in public transit vehicles.
Current smart technologies in the transit sector are capable of interoperability, but 5G will help improve connectivity between platforms and make it easier for cities to adopt mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platforms that seamlessly integrate all transit options within a single application.
Riders will no longer have to swap between several different apps to plan and book their preferred method of travel across several applications. The increased accessibility of traditional modes of public transit combined with micromodal options such as bikes, e-scooters, demand responsive transport, and other on-demand services can help make transit networks more efficient and encourage new ridership.
In turn, cities could see fewer personal vehicles on the road and lessen their CO2 emissions to become more sustainable.
With the capability to send larger amounts of data between devices in real-time, 5G can also help to improve surveillance cameras onboard public transit vehicles. One pilot project in Stockholm, Sweden has had promising results leveraging 5G-connected autonomous vehicles that are monitored by a control tower remotely. Data from inside the autonomous vehicles, including security camera feeds, can be transmitted to the traffic tower.
For example, if a passenger’s behavior informs the control tower that someone is not feeling well, the tower will take immediate action by safely pulling over the vehicle and calling an ambulance. While not all public transit systems of the future are likely to adopt autonomous vehicles, the communication between devices on-board vehicles and remote towers can be enhanced thanks to the high data speeds and low latency of 5G.
One of the most frustrating parts of existing public transit systems for riders is the lack of a real-time vehicle monitoring system. Google Maps, Apple Maps, Uber, and Lyft all have their own options for tracking public transit arrival times in real-time, but they’re not always the most accurate.
During my time as Chief Technology Officer at Modeshift, I’ve had the chance to work with cities across the world to implement MaaS solutions, including real-time vehicle monitoring systems, to deliver more accurate vehicle location data to riders. 5G’s low latency and high data speeds could help improve accuracies even further, but also introduce use cases such as synchronized digital schedules updated in real-time, and the timely dispatch of relief vehicles when overcrowding occurs.
Public transportation vehicles aren’t the only things that can be enhanced by 5G capabilities — traffic systems can too. Using 5G enabled sensors and cameras, traffic systems can help distribute traffic more effectively, reduce or completely eliminate congestion, and help cities become more sustainable.
The future of public transportation will be defined by 5G technologies as they continue to be rolled out around the world. How cities leverage 5G technology has yet to be seen on a wide scale, but all signs point to innovative solutions that have the power to make people rethink everything they know about public transportation.
Pavel Iliev is CTO at Modeshift.View Bio