The “world’s largest academic 5G innovation centre” (5GIC) opened today at the University of Surrey in the UK, which will see the country’s current four operators collaborate on development of the technology.
The facility, which has been in the works for three years, has more than £70 million investment behind it, and will house 170 researchers, with 24 members overall, including China’s Huawei as a lead researcher. Through work already completed, the institute claims to have developed technology enabling speeds over 1Tb/s, and filed over 15 patents.
Speaking at the launch, Rahim Tafazolli, who is heading up the facility, outlined his vision for the development of 5G, while cautioning the importance of designing the right network architecture to fully understand how the technology will develop.
“We have to bear in mind that 5G is expected to serve the market for 20 years from 2020 to 2040,” he said. “We will work on the heart of the design of the network and look deeply at user requirements. For something to last for so long, we need to look at how we design the networks – lower latency and higher reliability will be key to that.”
5GIC will also work with standardisation bodies, but wants to “wrap up all contributions to the standardisation process by next year”.
From then, the institute will develop integrated solutions in a real time environment from its research testbed which will be used “as a playground to test future technologies”, and will enable full 5G functionality and capability.
5GIC also has provisions for start-ups and SMEs, with nine of its members coming from that segment. During the testing phases, students will be invited to the campus to hack the 5G network, “to learn how robust it actually is and how it can be improved”, said Tafazolli.
UK operators come together
Representatives from Vodafone, EE, BT and O2 were present at the event, and spoke of their commitment in working with the research institution, while O2 and EE representatives said any pending M&A transactions would not have an effect on their commitment to 5G development.
While O2 is presently in the midst of a takeover bid from Hutchison Whampoa, EE could soon be acquired by BT, with the deal still going through the regulatory motions.
Telefonica O2’s VP of R&D Mike Short said any deal with Hutchison “may still take 12 months, and it’s all full speed ahead until then”.
“We’re not looking to slow down, and when you create a leading market, no-one should be taking a short term M&A view. 5G is reliant on collaboration.”
BT’s Chris Bilton, who revealed the company had been partnering with 5GIC “even before it started working with EE on various acquisition opportunities”, said 5G was going to be more important as customers continue to adopt mobile solutions. “The opportunity for this technology will be the ability to do things you can’t do with 4G, and that’s where the future lies.”
Perhaps a soon-to-be colleague, Paul Ceely, head of network strategy at EE, instead opted to focus on the continued growth of 4G, where the company leads the market, which he believes is “laying the foundations for a future 5G”.
“There’s still a long way to go with 4G, and the pull is still huge.”
Vodafone’s group R&D director, Luke Ibbetson, meanwhile, said 5G was not all about pushing the consumer to adopt 5G technologies, which some operators in the UK have struggled to do with 4G, but said the technology would emerge more as a hotbed for changing other industries. “From M2M all the way through to the future of robotics, government and healthcare, we will build a technology to promote this growth.”
A world first for 5G
During the briefing, Tafazolli revealed 5GIC would display “some 5G technologies ahead of anyone in the world”.
These demos included the first transmission of ultra HD 4K video, which was streamed to a mobile device over an enhanced outdoor mobile network, which used software and hardware to show the capabilities of 5G with “bandwidth hungry applications such as ultra-high definition”. Two sites were deployed compatible with 5G radio computing architecture to provide the demo, and was run in collaboration with Huawei and BBC.
A second demonstration showed off a new “5G spare code multiple access radio wave form,” which 5GIC said could support 300 per cent more IoT devices compared to 4G. In the live demo, numerous devices connected to a central system, showing how multiple users can occupy the same spectrum resource.
“We want 5G to be 1,000 times faster than the highest 4G speeds, response time and latency needs to be 50 times faster, 5G has to be 100 times more reliable and its capacity per square metre needs to be 1,000 times that of 4G to accommodate IoT,” added Tafazolli. “Wireless connectivity is the future and collaboration with other industries will be just as important as we develop this technology.