An AV generates massive amounts of data from its multiple sensors. Sharma said AVs have "the equivalent to hundreds of laptops' worth of [computing power] and storage on board." A fully deployed 5G network could also provide information an AV might need when a sensor fails.
"These additional data points are like an additional sensor which is coming through the network that provides redundancy of information so that you can drive more safely and also traffic will be more efficient," she said.
Another example of how 5G benefits AVs is simplifying how the car communicates. Some Cruise autonomous test vehicles in San Francisco require four LTE modems, for example, said Sam Abuelsamid, Guidehouse Insights principal research analyst.
The on-board computer splits the data over the four channels so that it has enough bandwidth.
"Ideally, 5G should be a simpler and cheaper solution to that problem, if the 5G network is reliable enough," he said.
Adding more autonomous vehicles to the roads means overall computing power and memory storage needs also increase, so the network can interact with things such as city traffic management systems and weather and road condition data in near real time, Sharma said. With 5G, this could be done remotely.
"Combined with the massive network bandwidth and speed of 5G, the hardware and software requirements are lowered for autonomous vehicles," she said. "This will help lower auto manufacturer costs to produce driverless vehicles and the technology barriers limiting mainstream adoption."