The first leg of the Struma Highway in Bulgaria, 2018, Source: Bulgarian Road Infrastructure

Sofia – Thessaloniki highway to support autonomous vehicles by 2025

Sofia – Thessaloniki highway to support autonomous vehicles by 2025

Greece and Bulgaria are set to build one of the first 5G cross-border corridors in Europe

Bulgaria and Greece are set to lay the foundations for developing autonomous driving in the region by building a cross-border 5G corridor connecting Thessaloniki to Sofia and Belgrade. The project was initially announced in 2018 but is set to complete in 2025.

The development is part of an EU-funded initiative to create so-called 5G corridors, connecting countries through routes with high-speed internet support. Additionally, the Bulgarian telecom A1 announced that it would handle the infrastructure for the Bulgarian side of the project, while development in Greece would come from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience package.

Enabling autonomous driving

In all forms, autonomous driving holds a lot of promise but it also represents a considerable infrastructure hurdle for governments. At the same time, the highway connecting Greece with Bulgaria and Serbia, which then leads to Western Europe is one of the busiest in the bloc, as it transports goods from and to the port of Piraeus.

Additionally, it also sees a lot of car traffic, especially during the summer with vacationers trying to make their way to the Greek seaside. This is why enabling a fast internet connection along the whole route can have a profound effect on the quality of travel.

In June 2018, Bulgaria, Greece and Serbia agreed to develop a 5G connection along the route with the specific goal of pioneering autonomous driving in the region. This corridor would include the border crossings and key sections of the main highway and also has the support of the EU Commission.

Through the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) Digital programme over the 2022-2027 period, the EU will provide financial support for the large-scale deployment of 5G corridors all across the Bloc, with a planned budget of around €1 billion for the period.

Recent development

The project is well underway both on the Bulgarian and Greek sides of the border, as the deadline for launching the 5G network is fast approaching in 2025. Yesterday, the Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Transport and Information Technologies Zlatina Nikolova, was quoted by EURACTIV explaining that half of the total 11-million-euro investment on both sides would be covered by the European Commission and half – by national governments.

Additionally, she also reiterated the 2025 deadline, with the country’s largest telecom operator heading the development. At the same time, in February 2023, in an official statement by A1, the company also announced that it would offer the so-called 5G SEAGUL service – continuous roaming internet on the highway from Sofia to Athens.

A1 will develop the network on the Bulgarian side of the border in a stretch of 173 kilometres, from the border crossing of Kulata – Promahonas to Sofia. On the Greek side, the project will be completed by the Greek telecom COSMOTE. The latter would build a 300-kilometre-long road, starting from Promahonas and reaching Velestino, a small town near Volos.

Once the construction, integration and testing of the networks on both sides are complete, the third partner to the project WINGS ICT Solutions will run trials on autonomous vehicles. The trials will use cars equipped with 5G onboard devices and sensors for driverless trips.

Finally, officials also say that this project would help expand internet penetration into rural regions, especially in communities located near the highway.



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