A government-backed UK 5G testbed will be up and running in April, enabling trials of applications and use cases delivered by the next-generation technology.
The project, which involved the deployment of a pilot network by King’s College London, the University of Surrey and the University of Bristol, is backed by £16 million of funding from the UK government. Rahim Tafazolli, a professor at the University of Surrey (pictured), said: “to our knowledge, such facilities don’t exist anywhere else in the world”.
Tafazolli explained the testbed “connects Bristol, London and Guildford together, and it’s got enough capacity to do nationwide trials of applications, use cases [and] advanced technologies”. The virtualised network uses a cloud-based architecture, and dynamic slicing “so slices can be given for different use cases”, quality and service level agreements.
Dimitra Simeonidou, his counterpart at the University of Bristol (pictured, left), said the testbed is only part of the story: “What we have created here is really teams, world-leading teams, with the skills and knowledge to actually bring the whole UK 5G story forward.”
And Mischa Dohler from King’s College London, added the universities set out to address the “very obvious, but very difficult question, of why you need 5G. Why is it useful to you, to your business model? Would it actually help you do new business, or the existing business more efficiently?”
“We had some really difficult conversations upfront, but in the end we grew very close with a lot of co-design workshops, and every single vertical we talked to is really excited for 5G to come along.”
“Probably the biggest achievement of it all is that we managed to shift something that the wider user base, the demand side, would regard as a cost exercise – I have to upgrade my infrastructure – now they see the value, and the conversation starts at a very different level. That is something we have achieved here.”
Ian Smith, programme director, 5G Testbeds and Trials at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (pictured, right), noted development of 5G is taking place in a very different way to previous technologies: “We’ve evolved our Gs as we’ve gone through in competition. Every operator has been in competition with each other, nobody truly got behind it, nobody had a vision for the country, the digital strategy, until last year, in the Spring statement, when the Chancellor came out and said ‘you know what? We’re going to do something a bit different here, we’re going to make something a bit special’.”
He continued: “I was so, so impressed to actually see some technology in racks, see lights flashing, which is always good if you are an engineer. Lights flashing mean something is working, and your £16 million has been spent well.”
Maria Rosas (pictured, left), technical project manager for the 5G UK Testbeds and Trials project (King’s College London), said with 5G, the ability to target industries gives “exciting new use cases”.
“Before, we were targeting the consumer, right now we can target healthcare with robotic surgery; we can target manufacturing with complex and critical tasks being performed; and with IoT many, many things will come.”
But Erik Ekudden, group CTO at Ericsson, noted 5G will be launched with “normal consumer experiences” at least in the initial phase.
“If you look at the capacity needs of today’s networks, video capacity for normal use, we are going to need 5G just for that. So the business case for 5G is made just by enhancing mobile broadband with more capacity, new spectrum and new technology. But if you go five years out, or perhaps ten years out, I expect 5G will actually be the underpinning of completely new user experiences.”
With consumer 5G an early opportunity, the executive said “the road into 5G starts with IoT on a massive scale,” with technologies available now which will enable operators to move in that direction.
“The third step is really critical IoT, that is when we can reap the benefits of a 5G system that is more than just capacity. When the low latency can be leveraged to its full extent, when the distributed cloud can run workloads all the way into the base stations, all of these things come to support enterprises.”
This means there is a real potential future upside for telecoms companies: “In less than ten years time, we see an additional operator revenue of up to $600 billion is possible to get through addressing these enterprises when they move from classical on-premise networking and compute into cloud-based and 5G-enabled industrialisation,” Ekudden (pictured, right) continued.
Tafazolli was positive about the UK’s position in the 5G race, despite aggressive promotion of the technology in markets such as the US and in Asia: “We can do big things, we can compete with the big boys, we have the capabilities if we have enough confidence in ourselves. We can be competitive with the other countries and the other industries,” he said.
But Smith noted the need for realism in the work: “We can get excited about the use cases, we can get excited about the technology that is behind it, but you’ve got to roll it out. The operators have got to deploy it, somebody has got to be able to make this stuff work, and ultimately people need to be able to make money from it”.