The newly merged operator is exploring mobile technology that will immediately switch to satellite connectivity in the event of a lost 5G connection

At the end of last year, O2 launched the UK’s first commercial 5G satellite lab, hoping to explore the complementary nature of the technologies for the development of autonomous vehicles. The Darwin SatCom Lab’s first task was to convert two vehicles into connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs), then remotely operate them as they drove around the facility using both satellite and 5G connectivity. 
Work at the facility appears to be progressing nicely, with news arriving last month that a deal between Aviva and Darwin Innovation Group to use the Lab to test a Level 4 autonomous shuttle (i.e., with no remote human operator). As a motor insurance provider, Aviva’s interest in the project was to analyse the data and get to grips with the kind of challenges they would have to face in future, when autonomous vehicles hit the public roads.
Now we reach the next step in O2’s journey exploring 5G and satellite’s utility for connected vehicles, with the newly merged operator (hereafter referred to as VMO2) beginning trials of a new device that can instantly switch between 5G mobile and satellite broadband if one network becomes unavailable. 
Currently, 5G deployments throughout the UK (and indeed the vast majority of the world) are far from ubiquitous – something which will be absolutely vital for connected vehicles in future, where a drop in connectivity quality could be disastrous. Satellite is potentially a natural fit in solving this issue, having a wide range and being able to cover areas where traditional mobile coverage is unattainable, like remote rural areas.
These project, which will take place in Cornwall, aims to create a publicly available device that can be installed during their construction, not only facilitating the development of autonomous devices, but also for connecting remote health clinics, public transport and more. Cornwall presents an excellent testing environment for such technology, not only having patchy 5G coverage but also geography rural enough to challenge the satellite connectivity. 
“We are very excited to trial these technologies in a very challenging environment. We have been supporting Darwin R&D with the European Space Agency to bring this technology to market and we are very confident that it will provide UK companies with a technological advantage to reshape the way in which they create value,” said Sergio Budkin, Director of Market Development at VMO2.
The move comes as part of VMO2’s wider collaboration with Amazon Web Services, HISPASAT, the UK Space Agency (UKSA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Darwin Innovation Group.
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