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What does next-generation connectivity mean for transport and mobility?

Intelligent Transport’s Eve De Clerk spoke to Edward Barratt, partner at international legal practice Osborne Clarke, about next-generation connectivity and the potential it has to transform transport and mobility.  

What does next-generation connectivity mean for transport and mobility?

What do you mean by next-generation connectivity? 

Next-generation connectivity is enabling the extension of digital technology into more and more aspects of the real world. The tools for this are technological developments like full-fibre broadband, 5G and the decreasing costs of satellite technology. All of these mean much quicker connectivity between devices, of whatever nature. Previously we were looking at phones and computers, whereas now we see chips in a much wider range of devices. 

Fifth generation cellular networks will offer higher access speeds, lower latency and allow a higher number of devices to be connected, permitting the development of different technologies, business models and products. 5G is the most high profile example and will be important in realising the potential of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). Future connectivity will also be deployed more efficiently – low speed narrowband IoT remains important for the ongoing monitoring of remote assets at lower cost and with greater energy efficiency. If organisations have greater visibility of where their assets are and what they are doing they can come up with different ways of using those assets and selling services.  

Next-generation connectivity is the enabler of the fourth industrial revolution: we had steam, we had the application of science and technology to production methods, we have had digitisation and the growth of the internet and now we’re looking at a combination of digitisation and real world connectivity that is changing the way we do business and the way that we live. 

Is the government’s idea of having CAVs on UK roads by 2021 viable?

Yes, absolutely, provided you are clear about what is meant by self-driving cars and what you expect them to do. If you hand over control of a vehicle to the self-driving system in circumstances which enable you to stop driving completely – for example, in a potential future scenario where the system has been certified as capable of taking sole responsibility for driving safely in a particular environment, such as a CAV-only lane – that is a form of self-driving. So is a driverless shuttle or pod in a low speed environment like an airport car park, a campus or retirement community. Those are some of the applications we are likely to see in the near term. That is some way though from a fully driverless future in which a vehicle system takes responsibility for complete journeys on public roads. 

This is an area where the law has a central role to play in defining the standards for human drivers and self-driving systems, preventing confusion over what is and is not self-driving. This is particularly the case with advanced driver assistance systems which have what may appear to be close to self-driving functionality. The relevant standards are currently being developed and we are already seeing the push-pull of regulation and innovation. Elements of the legal platform for self-driving are already in place but key aspects remain to be defined. 

Do you think the user expects too much? Is there a significant gap between what they expect and what they get? 

Mobility as a Service (MaaS) – the idea that we make the individual the centre of the journey, then use the technology to give the user the best journey experience they can have no matter the mode – is already facilitating qualitative changes in the way that people travel. 

At the same time, MaaS of itself is not going to solve all of the issues that users care about.  We might get better traffic management if all of the vehicles in a city are connected and you can move them around on a more efficient basis but, equally, you might just get more people using vehicles and add to congestion. People may be relatively happy sitting in static vehicles – using them as mobile offices – but not necessarily. At the macro level it brings other challenges – for example, the energy requirements associated with CAVs are huge. We need to find ways of generating and distributing clean energy to support the processing activities and powertrain requirements of CAVs and electric vehicles. In the near term there are also significant practical issues about how we deliver services and integrate different modes. Availability of data and the structure of fares and ticketing across different modes of public transport for example. 

Do you think the challenges, or ‘lack of want’ to want to work together is down to the monetisation of the system? Are people less inclined to work together due to a fear of missing out on something for them the other side? 

That’s a very good question – I think we have to be conscious of the size of some of the investments that are being made in these technologies. This is game changing  and what we also see with new digital technologies is that there tend to be fewer winners. People will always be very nervous about sharing their intellectual property (IP), as it is the value they need to protect for themselves and their investors. 

There are ways of doing this and it is the role of lawyers to support identification of the value within a proposition, which elements you need to share and how you protect it. There is a lot of value in that process, in terms of identifying how you can make your IP available in a constructive way to support the development of more complex systems while protecting your own position. Access to data is also becoming a fundamental issue, for example for repair and servicing providers, and is an issue the competition authorities are looking closely at. 

Other blockers also emerged in interviews for our report on next-generation connectivity. Transport companies had more concerns around security and cost than those in other sectors. They also had the lowest confidence in their existing skills base reflecting the needs of next-generation connectivity. One aspect of the picture we see emerging therefore is of tech savvy entrants to the market and more established market participants faced with the challenge of rapid digital transformation. Bringing these different types of providers together is one of the challenges to realising opportunities in transport and mobility. 

You spoke about standards, and how the standards are the building blocks upon which other things are built and are developed. Do you think that the standards need to be international so that each city follows the same regulations, or is it more a case-by-case scenario? 

Taking telecoms as an example, we’re at an interesting point in defining the standards for 5G as  it relates to CAV. The guiding principle in the development of modern standards has been that the technology should be technologically neutral and interoperable. The European Commission, through its C-ITS regulation, wants to mandate systems being back-compatible with Wi-Fi standards to ensure consistent operability across Europe. Then there is a strong telecoms lobby backed up by several of the European auto-makers wanting to be able to use 5G where it is available without being required to ensure back compatibility.  As with other applications, the question is how to balance regulation with innovation. Providers will want to be able to offer functionality capable of responding to user demands depending on the infrastructure available in different environments. 

Biography 

Edward is a partner at Osborne Clarke, an international legal practice which works with technology providers and clients facing the challenge of digital transformation. The firm has recently developed reports on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), next generation connectivity and smart cities.

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