UK communications infrastructure company Arqiva and vendor Samsung announced the first field trial of ‘5G’ Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology in the UK and Europe is now live in central London.
As Jonathan Freeman, product and technology director at Arqiva (pictured above), put it, the system “looks and feels” like current home broadband, but is delivered wirelessly and will have huge benefits for operators and the government, especially when it comes to meeting connectivity goals.
Using Samsung’s pre-standard 5G network kit and Arqiva’s 28GHz millimetre wave (mmWave) spectrum, the trial set up consisted of a radio access unit located on a rooftop (Arqiva’s office in Fitzrovia), wirelessly linking to a customer premises equipment (CPE), which looks like a broadband router and was placed inside Arqiva’s headquarters 230 metres away.
In commercial implementations, the access unit can be mounted on lampposts or similar street furniture.
The final component was Samsung’s virtualised core network, responsible for managing user connections and data routing from Arqiva’s network to the internet.
At the launch event, Woojune Kim, VP and head of next-generation business and products at Samsung Networks (pictured, below) explained how the system “brings together everything we make”.
The aim of the trial is to demonstrate the stability of the service, and its potential as a fast-to-market and cost-effective alternative to fibre for connectivity to homes and businesses, Arqiva said.
The system has established a stable two-way mmWave link with downlink speeds of around 1Gb/s at the CPE allowing, for instance, simultaneous streaming of more than 25 UHD 4K TV channels.
“This more than meets the needs of today’s typical household with considerable room for future growth,” said Simon Beresford-Wylie, CEO of Arqiva.
Arqiva and Samsung found that the new system will be 20 per cent to 40 per cent cheaper than pulling fibre individually to each house, while also providing faster speeds.
The pilot will take into account what happens to connectivity if pigeons come in the way or if it rains, plus the economics of the system relative to fibre.
Expanding the trial
Beresford-Wylie said that though this is only a proof of concept (an official 5G standard isn’t expected to be ratified until next year at the earliest), the firm has seen a great level of response from its customer base, including operators and fixed broadband providers.
The trial will run for a four month period, during which time visitors will include representatives from the government and mobile network and fixed network operators. There are also plans to extend the trial’s coverage to additional nearby buildings.
At the launch event, Arqiva said it has street level asset concessions for 14 London boroughs, and Beresford-Wylie emphasised the need for overcoming planning permissions, a major challenge, urging OfCom to aggressively solve such issues so the UK can have a “globally competitive, vibrant digital economy”.
The CEO said that the central government is stepping up its game and believes if the UK doesn’t figure this out now, in five to 10 years it will be unable to compete with advanced Asian economies.
He also said the country needs this more than ever, and while “it’s crucial either way, perhaps Brexit will bring a greater sense of urgency”.
The CEO explained that being impressed by the “bold decision” taken by Verizon to replace its copper network, coupled with the technology neutral 28GHz spectrum in the UK, is what initially sparked his interest. The cherry on top was the “abysmal” state of connectivity he experienced when he moved to the UK from South Korea.
Use cases including streaming multiple 4K Ultra HD videos simultaneously, plus the potential for virtual, augmented and mixed realities, autonomous cars and smart cities, and, in the future, 5G on trains and even buses were highlighted at the event.
Woojune Kim emphasised that operators need to focus on having sites, fibre and data centres on the edge, as it is no longer just about radio: ”radio links will come and go”.
He explained that Samsung Electronics is split up into three units and while they are all “$50 to $80 billion monsters”, the IT & Mobile Communications is becoming more important and forming the basis for everything else.
As a network player, he said “we are not number one but we are making a lot of progress”, giving the example of the Reliance Jio network it has built in India.
As for the new technology being used for smartphones, he said sub-6 GHz spectrum “will come very quickly in mobile devices but that will be more of an enhancement to LTE.”
Speaking to Mobile World Live, Kim added “mmwave will take a while. In theory chipsets will come out fairly quickly but speeds are so high and they eat too much power to run efficiently in a phone, so it will be used in a small scale factor from the 2019 timeframe.”
It will likely take off around 2020-2021, as second and third generation chipsets are created.
“At that point the phone becomes your connectivity hub,” becoming a link to, for instance, virtual reality headsets and “that’s when it will start to become interesting. Before that, sub-6 will be popular for quite a while.”