The UK government is awarding £16 million to three universities to develop a cutting-edge 5G test network.
With all five chosen for their international reputation in the field of 5G, King’s College London, the University of Surrey, and the University of Bristol will be responsible for building the network, which will be used by academics and commercial partners to trial and demonstrate the benefits of the next generation of mobile technology.
5G is expected to deliver reliable ultra-fast mobile connectivity, with the ability to process huge amounts of data and support complex applications for tomorrow’s mobile phones – for example, sending virtual reality (VR) 3D TV clips to mobile devices.
The technology should also be significant in supporting the growing number of connected devices and IoT applications that are emerging, in areas such as autonomous vehicles, robotic deliveries and other smart city developments.
Market research firm, IHS Markit, has predicted that 5G will enable $12.3 trillion of global economic output by 2035. This is one assessment among many that are fueling the growing buzz around the potential for 5G. Given the weight of these expectations, the government estimates that a world-class 5G test network could add up to £173 billion to the UK economy by 2030.
However, the UK government has already begun its work to ensure that the country can take advantage of these benefits. In the 2016 Autumn Statement, it announced a £1 billion package to boost the UK’s digital infrastructure; a new center of 5G expertise within in the freshly renamed Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport; and a new 5G Testbeds and Trials program.
A chance to lead the 5G field
The announcement of this test network is the first part of a four-year program of investment and collaboration in the government’s new 5G Testbeds and Trials program. Supposedly, the universities will work together to create three small-scale mobile networks, which together will form the test network. Each network will have a number of the elements expected in a commercial 5G network – including mobile signal receivers and transmitters and the technology to handle 5G signals – to support trials of its many potential uses.
The government says the project will build on existing research and help to make the case for timely deployment of fifth generation mobile technology in the UK. The hope is that this trial will ensure the UK is ready to take full advantage of 5G when it is finally delivered, which many experts predict will be 2019/2020 at the earliest.
Speaking about the potential benefits to the UK, minister for digital, Matt Hancock, said: “We want to be at the head of the field in 5G. This funding will support the pioneering research needed to ensure we can harness the potential of this technology to spark innovation, create new jobs and boost the economy.”
Should the test network prove a success, the investment is also aiming to deliver a 5G end-to-end trial in early 2018. According to the government, this could be, for example, a trial in which a signal is sent from a mobile device, such as a phone or in a car, to a data center and back again. It will test the capability of the technology to make an application or service work in a real-world environment.
Professor Rahim Tafazolli, University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre director, is the project lead and will be working with Professor Dimitra Simeonidou from the University of Bristol, a specialist in smart city infrastructures, and Professor Mischa Dohler from King’s College London, a wireless communications specialist, to deliver the project.
Speaking about the network, Tafazolli suggested the investment would ensure the UK is able to exploit the benefits of mobile technology.
“This exciting program builds on significant investment and a strong foundation of 5G research and development across the three institutions,” Tafazolli said. “The program will maintain and extend the UK’s leadership position in the race to transform many aspects of everyday life and business through digital transformation.”