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Oscar Williams

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Exclusive: the government wants to use 5G to accelerate the rollout of self-driving cars

This story has been updated.

The government is exploring how ultrafast 5G connectivity could accelerate the adoption of self-driving cars, NS Tech can reveal.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has awarded a £377,000 tender to SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business to study the feasibility of rolling out the technology across Britain’s road network.

The project will build on the government’s autonomous vehicle trials in the West Midlands, as part of a £5m commitment to testing 5G on Britain’s roads.

Mobile operators are yet to find a way to commercialise 5G, but self-driving cars are considered to be one of the most promising applications. The technology would enable cars to communicate with each other in real-time.

“We want the UK to be a world leader in 5G,” Margot James, the digital minister, told NS Tech. “An important part of this is making sure that our roads have connectivity fit for the future that will meet the operational needs of connected vehicles.”

“This work, part of our £200m 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, will help us better understand and solve some of the key challenges of 5G ready telecoms infrastructure alongside our roads as well as identifying additional benefits.”

The contract, published earlier this month and spotted by the government contracts database provider Tussell, started in June and is expected to run for six months. It could be followed by a trial aimed at solving some of the challenges associated with 5G.

DCMS announced earlier this month that it intends to roll out full fibre broadband to the whole of the UK by 2033, and that the technology would be key to providing 5G connections.

Update:

Fraser Sommerville, project director in the transportation division of SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, said in a statement: “The feasibility study will examine how to best future-proof the transport network, as technology advances and the demand for connectivity continues to grow. By the end of the study, we hope to have a clearer view of transport users’ future needs, and new business models for attracting commercial investment into the upgrade of our road network’s digital infrastructure.”