By Kevin Hasley, CCO of network performance benchmarking firm RootMetrics
As COVID-19 disrupts the way we travel in the short-term, rental e-scooters are emerging as a new option after UK trials began on 4th July. It is anticipated that more than 50 local authorities across the country will begin operating scooter trials in partnership with rental companies which have been lobbying the Government for years. The Department for Transport is conducting a 12-month trial of the vehicles to monitor their safety, and 5G connectivity will be critical to understanding the success of the trial period.
5G can help enable the new normal
The fifth generation of mobile networks is currently being rolled out across the UK and we will be able to experience faster speeds, allowing us to complete data tasks quicker. This includes downloading apps like those that could help the e-scooter movement grow. 5G will also result in lower latency, meaning there will be a substantially lower lag time between a user request and action being taken.
Lastly, the third key benefit of 5G is better connectivity and capacity, enabling more devices to talk to one another on our mobile networks. The UK’s four main mobile networks (EE, O2, Three and Vodafone) have all launched a 5G service. Although coverage on the main networks vary, it is expanding quickly and most of the UK’s major cities now have at least partial 5G coverage on at least one network, and many are served by all four.
5G will eventually enable applications that hold the potential to transform everyday life, from remote surgery to driverless cars, but those changes won’t happen overnight. Instead, 5G will be implemented in a phased approach over the next few years and it will be critical as we adapt to the new normal and adopt new mobility options. Transport Minister Rachel Maclean recently said: “As we emerge from lockdown, we have a unique opportunity in transport to build back in a greener, more sustainable way, which could lead to cleaner air and healthier communities across Great Britain.
“E-scooters may offer the potential for convenient, clean and cost-effective travel that may also help ease the burden on the transport network, provide another green alternative to get around and allow for social distancing. The trials will allow us to test whether they do these things.” However, if the trials are to be successful and e-scooters are to become a familiar sight in our towns and cities, local authorities, operators and consumers will all need to rely on high-speed, readily available and reliable mobile connectivity.
Connectivity holds the key to future mobility
Users will likely be able to hire e-scooters using a smartphone app, in a similar way to city centre bicycle hire schemes. With this in mind, users must have a strong and reliable mobile connection if they are to know where to find their nearest e-scooter, as well as where to leave it when they’ve completed their journey. Similarly, councils will need as much data as possible if they are to make informed decisions about whether they should adopt this new form of urban mobility and how best to do so. With the right amount of data transferred over our mobile networks, councils and operators will be able to identify the busier routes and respond to supply and demand appropriately.
Operators will also rely on high-quality connectivity to know where their e-scooters are located, to be able to track them at all times and ensure they’re being used correctly, and to be able to respond to battery charging demands. This is particularly important as the introduction of e-scooters in the last couple of years on the continent and in the US has been beset by problems of misuse.
There have been countless pictures uploaded to Twitter of e-scooters littered about once journeys are finished, with riders sometimes leaving their e-scooters on pavements haphazardly, causing physical obstructions for the blind, wheelchair users and parents with young children. Having strong connectivity so that it is always possible to see where scooters are left could be the first step in mitigating those types of issues.
IoT and smart cities
Take a step back and you can also see how the growth of e-scooters is tied to a major shift in how we live our daily lives as part of a more and more connected community. Think of a potential trip on your e-scooter. From using an app to locate one near you to navigating with maps on your mobile, to uploading a picture at your destination to making use of mobile payments, having strong and seamless connectivity is key.
We can expand the importance of connectivity and strong 5G service to the continued growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) in general. In the broadest sense of the term, IoT relates to anything connected to the internet. It is not a recent concept, but the introduction of 5G is a key enabler. IoT comprises all of the ‘smart’ and connected devices found in homes, cities, factories and healthcare facilities, and has the potential to make life easier and more automated. 5G’s high speed, reliability and low latency (i.e. the time a network takes to respond to a request), will keep IoT growing until virtually every device that could be connected will be.
Smart cities can be thought of as an extension of the IoT, where devices in cities are connected to make urban environments smarter and more user-friendly. For example, e-scooter tracking that can monitor flow to adapt operations accordingly and keep people moving efficiently through the city. If the UK’s potential e-mobility future and smart cities are to become a reality, the country will require 5G networks to support faster data speeds, lower latency and greater connectivity to keep our cities green and our people safe as we travel from A to B.