There’s a great deal of effort underway on the part of companies in the telecom, auto and technology industries to start mainstreaming connected, self-driving cars by the early-to-mid 2020s. ABI Research forecasts there will be more than 11 million shared vehicles operating by 2030, serving an average of 64 users per shared driverless vehicle.

Early efforts are promising. Ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft have had varying degrees of success with autonomous vehicles. And the Google company Waymo has had great success in Arizona with its rideshare service that caters to young children, senior citizens, and people who don’t have driver’s licenses for medical reasons. In fact, the promise is so great that almost every major automaker views connected, self-driving cars as critical to the industry’s future.

However, it will take more than the engineering and high-tech gadgets built into the new vehicles to make self-driving cars a reality. The key to success will be ultra-low latency and increased bandwidth from revolutionary 5G cellular technology. The promise of 5G reliability will also enable rapid growth of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology to deliver additional value in a smart mobility eco-system.

Think about it.

If one car starts to slow, how will it communicate its intentions to the following cars? How will the car behind know to pass by, or that the car ahead is instead slowing to make a left turn? Sure, the cars will have sensors and artificial intelligence to help make decisions, and the traffic lights will have sensors that will make them more intelligent managers of traffic flows, but all of that traffic data needs to ride over an improved cellular network optimized to give cars the human-like reflexes that could have potentially prevented the Uber accident in Arizona in March, 2018.

Getting all of this right will open still more doors. Consider what’s going on in retail. Massive corporations like Amazon are disrupting the traditional retail industry. Now imagine what could happen if the efficiency of the autonomous vehicle was combined with high margin, convenient model of online retail. Amazon has already tinkered with the idea of high scale delivery trucks that require no driver to maximize efficiency. Autonomous delivery trucks could pay for themselves and do not require frequent stops for rest or sleep.

As of right now, the rollout of 5G has been lagging compared to development of connected, self-driving vehicles. While some analysts say 5G will roll out by 2019, more realistic assessments see 5G going mainstream by 2025. In fact, the Mobile Economy North America 2018 Report estimates that by that year, 49 percent of all mobile connections in the United States will run over 5G.

Here’s a quick list of what 5G promises mobility consumers:

  • Faster download speeds: Reportedly 100 times faster than existing 4G networks. 5G may offer speeds as fast as 10 gigabits-per-second. This would mean the ability to download a full HD movie in under 10 seconds, compared to 10 minutes on 4G. Imagine sitting in a connected, self-driving vehicle and watching the latest episode of your favorite Netflix or HBO show?
  • Lower latency: 5G will have much lower latency. With 4G networks, latency has typically been around 30-50 milliseconds (3G was 100ms). With 5G we can expect latency of 1 millisecond or less, considered undetectable to the user.
  • Greater capacity: 5G will have greater capacity, meaning the networks will cope better with many high-demand applications at once — from data generated by connected cars and IoT devices to virtual reality experiences and simultaneous HD video streaming. Think of how great gaming will be in connected cars.
  • Increased reliability: 5G promises to be “ultra-reliable,” meaning no dropped calls or connectivity, which will allow more ‘critical’ use cases such as those related to digital health and connected cars.
  • Greater flexibility: Network slicing can divide a physical 5G network into multiple virtual networks so the operator can use the right ‘slice’ depending on the requirements of the use case. Users will pay based on the applications they use.

It’s actually hard to imagine the reality that is waiting just around the corner, especially since people have driven cars for more than a century. And yes, we can expect complications and high prices as this new reality unfolds, but we’re on the cusp of a technological evolution as dramatic as the invention of the automobile itself. Over time, the technology will get better, prices will drop and the world will reinvent itself once again.