T-Mobile 5G powers Halo’s driverless car service in Las Vegas

T-Mobile is driving home the point that it’s got a 5G network good enough to power one of the first commercial driverless car services in the U.S., with Halo running on T-Mobile’s 5G network in Las Vegas.

It’s not yet commercial, but is headed that way. Today, Halo and T-Mobile announced that riders will soon be able to summon an electric vehicle in Las Vegas and be on their merry way.

Halo, which has operated on the T-Mobile 5G network since it began driving on Las Vegas public roads earlier this year, said it's working with local municipalities and expects to start offering rides to customers later this year in urban parts of the Las Vegas Valley.

No doubt about it, Halo is unique. The 5G driverless car service is happening through the push of a button, so a customer can summon a driverless car to their doorstep, according to Anand Nandakumar, founder and CEO of Halo.

“We bring a full electric vehicle, without a driver inside, to your doorstep, and once the car gets there, as a customer, you jump into the car,” Nandakumar told Fierce. “You drive the car manually yourself to the destination.” Once you get to the destination, “you simply hop off and walk away. The car gets automatically repositioned to another customer.”

T-Mobile Halo
Halo expects to start offering rides to customers later this year. (T-Mobile) 

The customer doesn’t have to think about parking – gone are those worries about time limits and putting enough money into the meter, not to mention the time spent hunting for a space.

Essentially, there are multiple 5G modems in the car that are communicating with T-Mobile’s 5G network to keep everything running smoothly, including in-car cameras. Las Vegas is one of T-Mobile’s first 5G cities.

“It’s the fastest and most reliable network in Las Vegas,” said John Saw, EVP of Advanced & Emerging Technologies at T-Mobile.

RELATED: T-Mobile CEO talks up value, network in 5G era

“This is where T-Mobile is such a great ally for us,” Nandakumar said. “It’s a good partnership for us because 5G makes this vision a reality,” with low latency and high bandwidth required to handle all the cameras and integration with the car. “We are able to stream all this data up to T-Mobile’s 5G network.”  

Specifically, the expectation is that most of the time it will be connecting to T-Mobile’s mid-band 2.5 GHz layer of spectrum. Saw has a special place in his heart for that network, considering he had a hand in stitching the whole thing together

The initial fleet is going to consist of five cars, so it’s starting small and will go from there. Halo has ties to the local government, which has given its blessing – which sounds good since it promises to replace the need for “thousands of personally owned cars,” creating less traffic in a normally jam-packed space and eliminating a whole lot of pollution.

It doesn’t use C-V2X, and it’s not yet connected to smart city infrastructure. The aim is to work directly with municipalities to march toward that goal, according to Nandakumar. 

Safety first

How safe is it? The whole operation was developed with a “safety-first” approach, and it’s matured enough to the point where Halo has enough confidence to start with the commercial rollout.

That said, Nandakumar acknowledged that not everyone is ready to get into an autonomous vehicle. The idea is to use a “human first” approach — the human drives the car and controls it. Later on, possibly next year, it will roll out autonomy features, doing mundane tasks so the driver can relax a bit. A more advanced stage will involve the car pretty much completing the whole drive within a geographic area.

The system uses what’s called RemotePilot technology. Halo trains in-house drivers to remotely operate the driverless car over T-Mobile’s 5G network. Halo also developed an “Advanced Safe Stop” mechanism that enables its cars to immediately come to a full stop if a potential safety hazard or system anomaly is detected. Plus, it uses an advanced Artificial Intelligence algorithm, learning in the background while humans control the vehicle.

As for paying for it, it’s as simple as having a credit card. But, “our mission for the company is to make it extremely affordable, so anybody can get in and use the car,” he said, adding that pricing will be released later.

The next big thing

Saw is fond of saying that just like 4G LTE enabled things like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb, “the same will be true with 5G,” only on a greater scale.

About a year ago, T-Mobile founded the 5G Open Innovation Lab with other companies, including Microsoft, Amazon and others in the Seattle area. Halo is a graduate of the 5G Open Innovation Lab.

RELATED: Ex-Sprint CTO Saw’s new job: finding cool ways to use T-Mobile’s 5G

It certainly meets the criteria for what Saw said he’d be doing after leaving his post as CTO of Sprint last year to join the merged company.

Saw previously told Fierce that he’d be busy figuring out cool ways to use the 2.5 GHz spectrum that he had a hand in securing, first while at Clearwire and later at Sprint. It’s the spectrum that T-Mobile is now using to boast a great mid-band spectrum position in 5G. Who would’ve known?