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The automotive industry is transforming fast. As per market analysts, conventional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are expected to peak in the next few years and begin to gradually decline, giving way to electric vehicles (EVs). Many countries have already set up dedicated national automotive industry transformation funds to support the electrification of vehicles and their supply chains in an effort to align with the global green agenda. Despite the current variables in resource pricing and supply chain bottlenecks, subsequently, the new breed of software-rich EVs will lead to an autonomous driving ecosystem.

Advances in consumer electronics are transforming in-vehicle experiences (IVX) that were unimaginable a couple of years ago. Entertainment, connectivity, workplace on wheels and safety are becoming important factors that influence consumer decisions.

According to ABI Research, the number of highly automated vehicles being shipped each year is set to grow at a CAGR of 41% between 2024 and 2030. Future automakers will leverage autonomous vehicle applications to shape brand identities. These applications rely heavily on artificial intelligence which requires computing platforms that deliver powerful and efficient AI computing. According to Precedence Research, the global autonomous vehicle market size was estimated at USD 121.78 billion in 2022 and is projected to hit around USD 2,353.93 billion by 2032.

Advent of 5G Advanced

A significant signal of the impending adoption of autonomous vehicles in the future is the recent decision at the World Radiocommunication Conference 2023 (WRC-23) where the 6 GHz frequency band was officially designated as the global International Mobile Telecommunications (IMT) during a meeting held in Dubai.

The 6 GHz provides adequate spectrum to tap into the full potential of 5G leading to 5.5G or 5G Advanced connectivity for the widespread application of IoT devices by reaching speeds of 10 gigabits per second. This enhanced speed will allow the telecommunications network to accommodate thousands of small transmitters and receivers scattered across the digital infrastructure that is crucial for autonomous operations.

In a world where everything is connected to everything, 5G Advanced will provide reliable ubiquitous connectivity. In the UAE, the Telecommunications and Digital Government Regulatory Authority (TDRA) successfully conducted Phase II of the 5G Advanced trials project in cooperation with telecom service providers du and e&. The TDRA's initiative is centered on harnessing the maximum speed of 5G within the 6 GHz frequency range, utilizing a 400 MHz bandwidth. Additionally, it aims to assess the potential of this band in enhancing the overall user experience across the entire country.

Furthermore, the proliferation of smart homes and smart living complements the potential of extended connectivity offered by autonomous vehicles.  As a natural progression, individuals residing in these smart homes would naturally desire comparable features in their vehicles as well. As a reflection of this growing trend, the global smart and autonomous vehicle market is projected to grow exponentially, reaching an estimated value of USD 448.6 billion by 2035. These technologies are at the forefront of advancing urban mobility globally, revolutionizing transportation and how cities are designed and planned. Innovative automotive devices, equipped with AI engine architecture are capable of accelerating high-performing AI compute applications, while providing safety and security features and advanced automotive designs. Such devices are expected to be available by early 2024.

Autonomous Mobility Operation Challenges

For smooth autonomous operations,  along with adequate physical infrastructure,  in-built Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) in vehicles are crucial. ADAS has the potential to avoid accidents and manage traffic better by eliminating human error and providing real-time data about traffic conditions. The technologies incorporated in the ADAS include automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, self-park, and varying automatic emergency braking systems. However, ADAS are still in their developmental stage, and a handful of highly broadcasted— and sometimes fatal— crashes have raised concerns about the safety of the technology.

In the UAE, as an ongoing endeavor to transform Dubai into the smartest city worldwide, Dubai’s Self-Driving Transport Strategy aims to convert 25% of total trips in Dubai into self-driving transport trips across different modes of transport by 2030. RTA has plans to introduce 4,000 autonomous vehicles for taxi services by 2030. These initiatives may take a while to be fully functional but the momentum of the progress in fine-tuning these technologies is heartening.

Growing Opportunities for Telcos

In mid-2023, the UAE Cabinet approved the first preliminary national license for self-driving cars, granting it to Chinese company, WeRide, as part of efforts to transform the country's transport sector and move towards a future economy. Dubai is one of the most advanced smart transport technologies adopters. With the expanding infrastructure and advancements in AI and IoT, the demand for automobiles is poised to shift towards the adoption of ADAS technology.

As the primary connectivity providers for all facets of digital transformation, telecommunications companies (telcos) are strategically positioned to concentrate their business development efforts on diverse opportunities within sustainable autonomous mobility. This encompasses domains such as air, land, and sea, involving intelligent transportation systems, safety technologies, and customer experience solutions. The telecom sector’s stakeholders must utilize their expertise to provide a solid footing for the autonomous mobility sector to accelerate their journey towards digitally-advanced operations in the UAE (and greater Middle East region).

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