Bristol Millennium Square

Bristol to be testbed for 5G communications technology

A live 5G-based test network is to be set up in Bristol city centre as part of a joint research programme between the University of Bristol, BT and Nokia that will investigate the best ways to use the eponymous fifth-generation mobile technology in dense urban settings.

The latest Ericsson Mobility Report, published today, forecasts that worldwide there will be one billion 5G subscriptions for enhanced mobile broadband by 2023. With early deployments in dense urban areas, 5G will cover over 20 per cent of the world’s population by the end of that year.

The Bristol proof of concept network will run over the city council’s dedicated fibre infrastructure around Millennium Square, using research expertise from the University of Bristol, and cutting-edge 5G network solutions and radio access points from Nokia combined with spectrum from BT. It will connect to the ‘Bristol Is Open’ smart city platform and be backed by the ‘We The Curious’ science centre, which will be used for public demonstrations of the technology.

The University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab has recently received funding from the ‘5G Testbeds and Trials Programme’ from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to establish the ‘5GUK Test Networks’. The government’s new Industrial Strategy, launched yesterday, states an intention for the UK to “become a world leader in 5G,” with a promise of £176m in funding. An updated national 5G strategy is promised before the end of the year.

Over the coming months the Bristol test network will be used to explore and validate the deployment of 5G architecture that integrates existing technologies with innovations such as Massive MIMO radio access solutions, software-defined networking, network slicing and edge computing node functionalities. These technologies allow operators to use multiple antennas to boost the capacity of wireless networks, and to split a single physical network into multiple virtual networks, delivering reliable and high-capacity services to several applications and vertical sectors.

The initial deployment will examine the optimum models for 5G that will maximise coverage and speed in dense urban networks, using a combination of research and commercial solutions such as Nokia’s AirScale and AirFrame infrastructure. Future activity will focus on the use of 5G as an enabler of Internet of Things technologies, examining areas such as immersive tourism and connected transport.

Future plans would see the trial expanded across the city of Bristol, and to other nearby locations such as Bath city centre.

Dimitra Simeonidou, director of the Smart Internet Lab at the University of Bristol and chief scientific officer of Bristol Is Open, said: “Bristol is well placed to conduct this pioneering work, which will use innovative network and wireless technologies that will help improve services, businesses and infrastructure in our cities and region. We have long standing relationships with both the BT Labs and Nokia’s Bell Labs Research, and with this new collaboration we are looking forward to demonstrating the very significant advances resulting from introducing 5G mobile technology.”

Neil J McRae, chief architect, BT, explained: “We have demonstrated the power of 5G capabilities in our labs. Now, we’re gaining a real-world understanding of how 5G can be used within dense urban environments. This is crucial to building meaningful use-cases for future macro-scale 5G networks. 5G is teaching us that collaboration is essential and we’re pleased to be working with experts from Nokia and the University of Bristol to lead research into technologies such as Massive MIMO and Network Convergence and enhance our understanding of the role 5G networks will play in building the connected cities of the future.”

Cormac Whelan, the CEO of Nokia UK&I, added: “The importance of applying 5G in the real world and showing what the combination of new and existing technologies can do for people, is not to be underestimated. As with all new technology, we need to explore its capabilities and demonstrate how it could benefit enterprises and consumers.”

The Ericsson report indicates that consumer demand for 5G will be driven by the trend for mobile video streaming in higher resolutions. For industry, 5G will be a major driver of digitalisation, with opportunities in immersive gaming, autonomous driving, remote robotic surgery, production-line robotics, virtual reality and augmented reality. The sectors offering the greatest revenue opportunities will be manufacturing, energy and utilities.

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