The operator has today launched the UK’s first commercial lab for 5G and satellite communications, exploring how the technologies can combine to facilitate connected vehicles

5G has long been posited as fundamental for the realisation of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). Driving is a highly complex activity that requires near instantaneous decision-making and image identification, something which simply is not possible with the latency of a 4G connection. But with 5G, which will reduce latency to around one millisecond, CAVs will be able to communicate with one another safely and effectively.
But what do you do when you want to drive to an area with limited on non-existent 5G coverage?  
Today, O2 has announced the launch of what they claim is the UK’s first commercial lab for exploring the use of 5G and satellite communication to explore CAV technology. 
The Darwin SatCom Lab, situated at the Harwell Science & Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire, has been launched as part of a four-year trial programme supported by funding from the UK Space Agency. O2 has currently converted two vehicles to CAVs with LIDAR sensors, which can be remotely operated from within the laboratory itself. The project will make use 5G equipment from Nokia, paired with geosynchronous communications satellites from Hispasat. 
Satellite offers an excellent opportunity to fill the connectivity gaps in 5G networks. This will be especially relevant in rural and hard-to-reach areas where deploying a 5G network is difficult or unfeasible. 
“The Lab, showcasing the integration of 5G and satellite communications for CAVs, is a great example of how next-gen 5G networks will enable new applications and services thanks to their ubiquity, security and resilience,” said Antonio Franchi, 5G Strategic Programme Manager at the European Space Agency.
“It’s the next step in getting autonomous vehicles on the road and making the UK’s transport network greener,” added Derek McManus, O2’s COO.
While CAVs driving around the streets of the UK is still some way off, as 5G deployments continue to grow, the concept is becoming closer to reality. O2 is not the only operator exploring the concept, with Vodafone partnering with autonomous vehicle specialist Aurrigo back in August, saying that CAVs could  “be the future of transport in a post Covid world”.
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