BMW believes that 5G mobile networks could be vital in providing the mission-critical reliability as it seeks to deploy self-driving cars onto city streets.

Speaking at Huawei's 5G Summit in Munich today, Sebastian Zimmermann, BMW's head of automotive connectivity and security solutions, said that improvements over current mobile broadband services are needed to enable fully autonomous vehicles, as well as support systems to protect pedestrians.

"Highly automated driving is a difficult topic because you need ultra-reliable networks, low-latency, and they must work everywhere," Zimmermann said.

"You need a technology that works even when the network operator is not there, as they are out of range for example. So 5G with device-to-device communication could be a solution to this.

"It is very important that cars can communicate with each other and communicate with other participants in the city, such as pedestrians or cyclists. You have bring all of this together to have a smart city where cars can autonomously drive."

The comments echo similar sentiments from Ericsson chief technology officer Ulf Ewaldsson, who last month claimed that the most impressive self-driving car features - such as the ability to warn drivers of an impending collision or even be guided through traffic automatically with no driver behind the wheel - would be reliant on the introduction of 5G networks.

BMW revealed details of its latest autonomous vehicle prototype at the CES show in Las Vegas last month, and sees plenty of business potential for 5G in future, with expectations that the 70 million cars being produce each year will be 'connected', Zimmerman said.

"5G is not only about greater efficiency, but also for enabling such use cases and solutions [as self-driving cars]. There is definitely a business opportunity there," he said.

5G is the name for the next generation mobile broadband currently under development by by vendors, service providers, universities and government bodies.

It is expected 5G will see its first deployments in 2020, providing a number of benefits over current 4G networks. This includes downloads speeds of up to 10Gbps, five times lower latencies, and vastly improved network coverage. 5G will also offer more intelligent use of spectrum and greater reliability as service providers deploy software-defined networking and adopt cloud architectures.

Speaking at the event, Wenshuan Dang, Huawei senior network architect, said it can be difficult to accurately predict "killer applications" for 5G at this stage, but claimed that the higher service levels will have a significant impact on business models.

"At the time 5G is widely deployed, the internet will be a basic infrastructure for our society," he said.

"If you look at the model of engagement with the customers, even how we create value to the users, and how they develop their products, any company will be an internet company.

"BMW is developing its connected cars, so I believe that looking into the future BMW will be an internet company too."

"The internet, as a term, will disappear."

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