The long-awaited launch of the UK5G innovation network this week means that it won’t be long to see how the cards the government dealt for 5G play out. The network “lies at the heart of the government’s strategy for 5G” stated Ian Smith, Director of Testbeds and Trials, DCMS, at the launch event in London’s BT tower on Monday.
Indeed the UK’s race towards 5G innovation has accelerated in recent months. A flurry of activity as 3GPP completed work on the first version of Release 15 of the 5G New Radio (NR) specification in late December, while already in March, Ofcom kicked off its 5G spectrum auction to six bidders while the government has awarded £25 million to six 5G projects aimed at accelerating the rollout of the cellular network technology.
The UK5G innovation network was also buzzing with activity in these recent few months. It announced its delivery consortium in December, (TM Forum, Cambridge Wireless, Knowledge Transfer Network), it called for applicants to its advisory board in late January and announced its picks at the launch on Monday. “The board is a balance of members from both the supply side (providers of technology, infrastructure, operators, services) and the demand side (customers and potential customers of 5G), drawn from the 5G ecosystem,” the network stated in a press release.
Rosalind Singleton, Chair of UK5G’s Advisory Board added, “UK5G is a wonderful opportunity for industry and our research base to work hand in hand with government to help promote the development of 5G, through test bed and trials funding, policy-making and network support.”
UK5G exists essentially to nurture innovation, share knowledge, identify challenges, enable collaboration and support investment. The network states that the wider ecosystem is especially important and something it is particularly keen to support; networks of innovation, entrepreneurs, small companies medium companies, all of who have telecoms and connectivity needs, and need to be understood and served. Examples of such backing for innovation arise from the six testbeds and trials program which UK5G supports:
Worcestershire 5G Consortium
A team of 5G and Industry 4.0 experts (including 5GIC, AWTG, Huawei, O2 and BT) will lead this project, working with Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and a £4.8 million grant. The project focuses on ways to increase industrial productivity through preventative and assisted maintenance using robotics, big data analytics and AR over 5G. It will also have a cyber security aspect, with QinetiQ providing assurances on the ‘security by design’ of 5G and IoT technology.
5G Rural First, with a grant of £4.3 million led by Cisco and lead partner University of Strathclyde, will deliver testbeds and trials to exploit 5G benefits for rural communities and industries like agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities, to address the challenges of and build the business case for 5G rural deployment.
Based primarily on the Orkney Islands, and in the farmlands of Shropshire and Somerset, the project will integrate spectrum sharing strategies for 5G; bringing connectivity to rural communities, enabling smart farming in partnership with Agri-Epi Centre (including drones, autonomous farm vehicles and remote veterinary inspections); innovative methods of delivering broadcast radio over 5G working with the BBC, alongside the delivery of 5G connectivity for IoT in utility and other industries in rural areas.
5G Smart Tourism
With a grant of £5 million and led by the West of England Combined Authority, this testbed will focus on delivering enhanced visual experiences for tourists using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology in major attractions in Bath and Bristol, including the Roman Baths and Millennium Square. Content and technology developments will be provided by the BBC and Aardman with support from the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab. It will demonstrate self-provision of 5G and Wi-Fi and innovative mmWave backhaul, and will also address safety issues by providing emergency service capacity through network splicing.
Liverpool 5G Testbed
Sensor City will lead a consortium made up of public sector health suppliers, the NHS, university researchers, local SMEs and a leading UK 5G technology vendor. Funded with £3.5 million for one year in the first instance, the project will see high value technologies including low-cost, open-source 5G networks, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and IoT deployed across deprived communities in the Liverpool City Region test bed. The consortium will use this technology to reduce the digital divide while measuring the impact on patient monitoring and support, management of loneliness in older adults, aid to independents living in the home and the facilitation of communication between hospitals and the community.
5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT)
5GRIT will be trialing innovative use of 5G technology across a range of rural applications, such as smart agriculture, tourism and connecting poorly-served communities, using shared spectrum in the TV bands and a mix of local ISPs and self-provision. The testbed is led by Quickline Communications with a grant of £2.1 million.
The aim is to ultimately make high-quality connectivity available across Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Monmouthshire. Here the consortium will develop 5G-ready AR apps for tourists and investigate how high-bandwidth wireless connectivity can increase food production in farming, including through use of AR and an unmanned aerial system.
With a grant of £4.1 million AutoAir aims to make 5G technologies available for the validation and development of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) at the UK’s premiere vehicle proving ground at Millbrook. Fast travel speeds complicate cell-tower handoff, and autonomous vehicles will require more network bandwidth than is available currently. It will also investigate how these 5G connectivity solutions could be transferable to both road and rail transportation. It is based on the development of 5G small cells operating in both licensed sub-6GHz and mmWave bands on a shared ‘neutral host’ platform which allows multiple public and private 5G operators to simultaneously use the same infrastructure via network slicing.