The government has launched a £25m ‘5G Testbeds and Trials’ programme to source ideas for how the next generation of mobile networks – 5G -can benefit the UK economy.
The £740m National Productivity Investment Fund, announced in last year’s Autumn Statement, is for the development of digital infrastructure in the UK. That includes the development of full fibre broadband and 5G mobile networks, which the government hopes can add £173bn to Britain’s economy by 2030.
5G allows much faster mobile network speeds of between one and ten Gbps, which could allow users to download or stream video on their mobile devices in seconds. The government want ideas of how 5G can boost the economy, and successful project applications will receive up to £5m.
Companies, universities and organisation are being asked to bid for their slice of the £25m to become test beds for 5G networks. Tests are already due to commence in early 2018, following the allocation of £16m to King’s College and the Universities of Bristol and Surrey.
The University of Surrey is currently working with Worcestershire local Enterprise Partnerships, QinetiQ, Worcester Bosch and Yamazaki Mazak to trial 5G use in automated manufacturing.
The government want more ideas on how 5G can help the economy. Technological developments like driverless cars and smart homes mean faster and more reliable mobile network signals will be required.
5G just means “fifth generation”, and this is currently undefined by the global mobile standards body 3GPP. Different governments and organisations are researching ways to make the technological breakthroughs required to take mobile networks to the next level.
Current 4G networks operate on sub-6GHz frequencies, but more and more users and devices is clogging up this frequency range. One way to achieve better mobile networks is by optimising existing traffic.
Another way is to make use of unused frequencies between 28GHz and 39GHz. There are significant benefits to these “millimetre waves” compared to sub-6GHz frequencies, but data deteriorates relatively quickly after being transferred over several kilometres.
Firm definitions of what 5G is are lacking, but manufacturers and other organisations are trying to push technological innovation in different ways. Many are hoping to have 5G networks implemented by 2019, while others think the required developments are far further away.
Digital minister Matt Hancock said “we are determined to be one of the first countries in the world to use 5G”.
Mobile operators don’t currently have access to the frequencies needed for 5G. A planned auction of those frequencies by Ofcom has been delated repeatedly and has led to a High Court battle between Three, BT and the telecoms regulator.
The case is expected to continue for months before we know whether mobile network providers will be able to use the new frequencies.
Despite Boris promising 5G in London by 2020, the 5G for Europe Action Plan currently controls planning and regulation of infrastructure across Europe, including in the UK. Brexit has led to some concern as to whether the UK can continue to keep pace with 5G network development outside the EU.
Qualcomm recently announced details of their first 5G mobile data connection, gaining speeds of up to 1 Gbps using a 5G smartphone chip.
The ‘5G Testbeds and Trials’ initiative is only open to UK-registered organisations for UK industry projects in collaboration with other organisations.