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Making the most of 5G

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Ros Singleton

Chair of UK5G Advisory Board

Robert Driver

Head of UK 5G

You’ll soon be hearing a lot about 5G. How it’s completely transformational, how it’s the biggest step mobile communication has taken since the invention of the mobile phone and how it’s not just ‘faster 4G’. Then you ask what 5G does, and it all starts to sound like 5G is just faster 4G after all.

It might not sound like the new future, but that’s because we’ve only just got started. Helping businesses navigate the complexities and opportunities of 5G is the job of the DCMS-funded body, UK5G.

Robert Driver leads the organisation that pulls together the trade bodies of Cambridge Wireless, the TM Forum and the Knowledge Transfer Network, which, together, build a network of networks.

Cambridge Wireless has a membership that understands the advanced technologies. The TM Forum brings together mobile operators around the world to share best practice, and the Knowledge Transfer Network understands how to relate these innovations to UK businesses in a variety of industrial sectors.

Thinking of 5G as a faster 4G is like thinking of a car as a faster bicycle.

Six important working groups for 5G

Essential to the running of UK5G is the advisory panel chaired by Ros Singleton, and six working groups targeting technologies in particular parts of the UK economy. The working groups look at:

  1. Connected Places, which promotes the development and automation of smart cities and rural environments working with a wide number of local authorities;
  2. Local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) and small and medium enterprises (SMEs), focusing on how businesses can adopt and implement 5G;
  3. Creative Industries, which is is focusing on new content and services, media production and distribution, and immersive technologies;
  4. Manufacturing working group, helping industries use 5G in a factory context, where it’s needed for just-in-time processes, quality control and predictive maintenance;
  5. International Issues, which looks at exporting the substantial body of UK 5G knowledge;
  6. Testbed and Trials, which focuses on learning lessons from the three Testbeds and six Trials that have been carried out thus far.

The Testbeds were developed at the universities of Surrey, Bristol and King’s College London. The trials have looked at tourism around the UK, at advanced automotive applications using the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, healthcare in Liverpool, agriculture in many UK sites and manufacturing in Worcester. The Trials and Testbeds are a fantastic example of DCMS funding, matched by private enterprise developing world beating UK technology.

Is 5G really just a faster 4G?

Thinking of 5G as a faster 4G is like thinking of a car as a faster bicycle. Yes, it is faster, but it’s the other aspects that make it special. The technology triumvirate of 5G is: faster connections, less latency – that is to say instantaneous reactions so no lagginess – and the ability to have vast numbers of devices in a small space.

A poster child for such wireless technology is the Ocado automated warehouse, which uses fleets of robots to move storage bins so that a packing robot can reach the item it needs. The orchestration of this means that Ocado has had to develop a special 4G-based dense cellular network controlling thousands of fast-moving robots simultaneously, each to within a fraction of a second.

The private network is the magic ingredient

In the Ocado case, the special technology is a private network. Private networks are not new to the technology but are much better integrated with 5G.

The ability to run private networks ties in with two different aspects of 5G. One is ‘network slicing’. Here a mobile network – typically one of the major providers – offers a privately allocated part of the network. A business can use it for its own purposes with a guarantee of service. The second method for a private network is for the business, school, farm or community to have its own radio network. This is akin to putting solar panels on your house, using the power and selling excess back to the national grid.

When previous generations of mobile technologies have rolled out new services, they have done so with little preparation from government and industry. With 5G, this is different, the foundations have been laid, and that’s just as well because 5G is clearly a lot more than just faster 4G.

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