Someday soon, your car could become a mobile telecom tower

Like this, but smaller.
Like this, but smaller.
Image: REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
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Car manufacturers and social media companies alike are excited about the idea of a “connected car” that is so fully wired that consumers never, ever, need to be unplugged from the internet.

But what if the car itself became part of the connection? As Muthanna Abdulhussein, a base concept engineer with Volvo Car, explained at Huawei’s annual analyst meeting in Shenzhen, when 5G internet connections are introduced “the car can become a base station, just like a land owner,” with an antenna that generates a wifi connection to objects around it.

Here’s what that might look like, kinda (and the base station itself would probably be quite a bit less obtrusive than the graphic below).

Image for article titled Someday soon, your car could become a mobile telecom tower

“It’s a good way to cover the problems of coverage and holes in the network,” Abdulhussein said. Even better for car makers, they can probably earn revenue from telecom operators for building base stations into cars, he said. (Car owners might have something to say about that, though).

Telecom infrastructure companies like Huawei are looking to “5G,” the next generation of mobile communications technology, as a great opportunity for future growth. One big stumbling block is that no one can agree what “5G” should look like, exactly, or when we might need it—except to say that it should be much faster than what exists and capable of carrying exponentially more data.

One way to do that would be to introduce super-fast wifi connections that work with devices that automatically skip between connections as needed. And that kind of system would need a lot more bandwidth than current 4G setups—the kind of bandwidth that a bunch of moving vehicles with telecom stations on top might provide.

To be sure, there are “technical challenges and business challenges” to the idea, Abdulhussein told Quartz, including figuring out a way to power the antenna without draining the car battery.

But it if did become a reality, the “connected car” would no longer pair smartphones and app makers with car companies (as somewhat disappointing early models have), it would pair the wireless industry with the auto industry, he said.

You will need to wait a while for your own mobile telecom tower, though—even industry optimists don’t expect 5G to be out until 2020.