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May 22, 2020 1:00 PM, EDT

5G and the Future of Fleet Communications

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The much-hyped rollout of 5G networks is underway in the United States. This fifth generation of wireless technology promises to deliver faster connections and ­greater capacity, but what will the emergence of 5G mean for trucking companies?

Fleet managers and drivers are increasingly reliant on onboard technology and tracking data to effectively run their businesses, so any opportunity to accelerate those communications could yield significant benefits.

But the trucking industry likely won’t be among the first to reap the benefits of 5G on a wide basis because it will take years for 5G coverage to expand to the point where it might make sense for most fleet operations.

Seth Clevenger

Clevenger

Right now, the consumer market is the primary focus of the 5G rollout.

For many trucking companies, on the other hand, another wireless technology transition is a much more urgent matter.

The looming sunset of 3G networks should be a serious concern for fleets that still are using older mobile communications equipment, electronic logging devices and asset tracking systems on their trucks and trailers.

These companies will need to replace their existing devices before they cease functioning as wireless carriers shut down the 3G networks that support them.

Rather than leaping ahead to 5G, fleets generally will be replacing 3G systems with 4G LTE devices, the current industry standard.

Upgrading onboard hardware across an entire fleet can be a daunting task, so trucking managers should already be working closely with their technology vendors to ensure a smooth transition and avoid service disruptions.

Today’s difficult and uncertain business environment may add to that challenge.

5G technology graphic

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus have caused a dramatic downturn in freight volumes in many sectors of the industry. That financial strain could make technology investment more difficult for some trucking companies.

On the other hand, this business slowdown can be a window of opportunity for fleets to make the necessary migration to 4G so they will be ready to go full speed ahead as the econ­omy rebounds and freight demand accelerates.

Meanwhile, it’s not too soon to for fleet managers to begin thinking about 5G as they plan for the future.

Although widespread adoption of 5G devices in the trucking industry will be years in the making, the benefits could give early adopters an edge as they continue to expand their technology-­enabled fleet management capabilities.

Unfettered access to the ever-expanding amount of operational data captured by the many devices fleets are installing on their trucks and trailers will enable more advanced analytics and decision support in the future.

Onboard computers, ELDs, trailer monitoring systems, video-based safety systems and the growing number of sensors on modern commercial vehicles could reach new heights with 5G connectivity.

5G might not be right around the corner for the trucking industry, but it is coming.

Although most fleets won’t be on the leading edge of this technology transition, they also can’t afford to fall too far behind.

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