5G on Sea: Brighton becomes latest testbed for next-gen communications
Brighton: Now 5G on sea. Photo: Chris Middleton

5G on Sea: Brighton becomes latest testbed for next-gen communications

Tech innovation centre Digital Catapult has launched the UK’s latest 5G testbed in Brighton & Hove, with the Coast to Capital local enterprise partnership, digital networking forum Wired Sussex, and the University of Brighton.

The 5G Brighton testbed will allow small businesses in the south-coast city – often called London on Sea for its links with the capital – to benefit from 5G mobile communications.

It will also provide a space to test and explore new applications of the technology in a community full of tech startups, games companies, and digital agencies, along with two universities and several colleges.

A range of virtual, augmented, and mixed reality technologies developed in the city were demonstrated last night in an immersive showcase at local R&D hub, Fusebox Brighton.

National strategy

The new testbed will also help meet the government’s commitment, outlined in the Industrial Strategy, for the UK to be a world leader in 5G technology.

Science Minister Sam Gyimah said, “From virtual to mixed reality, this new 5G testbed will provide the opportunity for bright ideas to flourish, demonstrating the potential of creative and digital sectors in Brighton, and showcasing our modern Industrial Strategy in action.”

Dr Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult, added: “The 5G Brighton testbed lets companies experiment with new applications and services, which take advantage of the unique nature of 5G.

“This is a major step forward in the wider rollout of this advanced technology, helping take the technology out of university labs and into the market.

“5G represents more than just faster internet on the move; it’s the first mobile technology that, by design, enables free-standing setup in individual locations, offers new companies the opportunity to control their own networks, and enables operators to manage computing at the edge as a new business model for the future.”

Jonathan Sharrock, chief executive at Coast to Capital, said: “We are thrilled to have contributed local growth funding towards the 5G Brighton project, which is crucial to the development of key digital sectors in Brighton and the wider region, as identified in our Strategic Economic Plan, ‘Gatwick 360’.

“This project enables a number of our strategic priorities to progress, including innovation and improving digital network capability. We look forward to working with partners to ensure that our area is well equipped to be at the forefront of emerging technologies and uphold our reputation as a great place to live, work, and succeed.”

Plus: 5G strives to move ahead in US

In related 5G news from the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to speed up the deployment of 5G networks nationally – especially in rural areas – by overriding local rules and cutting the red tape attached to permits.

The move has been welcomed by many in the telecoms sector, but some have criticised what they see as federal overreach, expressing worries that litigation between local authorities, states, and federal government may be caused by the move, slowing 5G’s progress in the long run.

And in further US news, telecoms provider Sprint has told market regulators that its planned purchase by T-Mobile US would create a strong third-place challenger to AT&T and Verizon, helping to spur the uptake of 5G and intensify competition.

However, Sprint’s claim to regulators that customers are fleeing to its competitors, making the deal critical to its long-term survival, appears to contradict its latest financial results. In August, Sprint reported its 12th sequential quarter of subscriber growth and a profit of $176 million.

Internet of Business says

As the Brighton testbed announcement explained, 5G offers a significant opportunity to bring the worlds of mobile communications and the internet even closer together, helping to increase access speeds and improve bandwidth.

It also has the potential to open up a range of new possibilities, including: support for autonomous cars; better support for the Internet of Things in healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing; and the potential for new, more interactive models of content creation and consumption.

However, Brighton is also an example of the obstacles facing digital Britain. While the city is a young, diverse, vibrant, digital community that supports independent businesses and alternative lifestyles – and boasts the only constituency with a Green MP – parts of the city suffer from poor broadband connectivity, even in the centre of town.

Cable connectivity is patchy in Brighton, while much of the seafront consists of listed Regency buildings, meaning that satellite dishes are often forbidden. This leaves many users reliant on BT and Openreach extending Infinity coverage to their premises – an uphill battle for some, who experience single-digit download speeds.

For such customers and others in Brighton who are hostage to the whims of BT and its ageing copper network, 5G could be an enticing, if costly, prospect. But many simply don’t understand why some parts of the city – along with other urban centres in the UK – offer no better connectivity than rural ‘notspots’.

At best, the UK is 15 years away from national full-fibre broadband coverage, as our recent report explained.