How 5G Will Transform the Electric Vehicle Industry

Freeman Shen founded electric vehicle startup WM Motor Technology Group in China in 2015 after senior roles at Fiat Group China and Geely Holding Group, where he oversaw the company’s 2010 acquisition of Volvo.

Shen, speaking at the Fortune Global Tech Forum in Guangzhou on Thursday, says he decided to leave his high-level corporate stints behind to launch an electrical vehicle startup—at a time when the EV sector in China was barely established—for one reason: “Because I know 5G is coming!”

WM Motor aims to make affordable electric passenger vehicles for the mass market. It delivered its first vehicles to customers in September 2018, and now has 15,000 cars on the road.

The startup’s cars function like “power banks,” Shen says, by helping the state grid to balance its electricity: the vehicles take power from the grid and, since they run on charged batteries, also distribute power back into the grid when electricity levels are low.

But WM’s vehicles, Shen says, are not just transport devices—they can also serve as “smart mobility terminals,” and 5G, the fifth-generation cellular network technology that promises users faster speeds and trustier connections, will play a key role.

WM started working on 5G cars two years ago, and Shen says he hopes it will be “one of the first” tech startups to “launch a 5G car on the road.”

“4G is like driving on the high-speed interstate highway. 2G is like driving on a country road. But 5G is like driving an airplane.” Shen says.

The higher network speed of 5G is often associated with faster streaming and downloading capabilities. But in the automotive industry, it’s about safety and survival, Shen says, and “if you don’t have 5G, the car is not safe.”

Driverless cars connected to 5G would be constantly and instantly connected to traffic signals, and would monitor the roads through “vehicle-to-vehicle” communication, a network 5G-connected cars that lets them share data.

The increased network speed would mean less delay in information transmissions and faster vehicle response times, and could eventually make autonomous vehicles safer on the road than human-driven vehicles.

“If you don’t have 5G you just cannot make it.” Shen says.

China is racing ahead in the implementation of 5G networks. Last week, the country’s three major telecom providers announced that they are rolling out 5G service two months earlier than scheduled, making China the second country in the world after South Korea to launch the fifth-generation technology.

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