5G phone mast

Hybrid 5G/satellite testing facility to open in Oxfordshire next year

Image credit: Dreamstime

A facility for testing 5G and satellite technology is to be created at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire, with £3m in government funding.

The engineering hub, which is due for completion in 2021, will provide a base for UK researchers and businesses to experiment, and will allow teams to test the benefits of hybrid 5G and satellite communications networks.

The hope is that once the technology is demonstrated, the techniques can be rolled out to other businesses across the UK.

The centre is being backed by a European Space Agency contract, and will be carrying out a project to see whether rural communities can be connected to 5G in the most affordable way possible. Currently, the limited range of 5G antennas means the networking standard will be mostly confined to high density population areas like cities, meaning that many rural locales will lose out, at least in the short term.

Huawei initially provided much of the infrastructure needed to supply 5G, but the UK Government ultimately banned its involvement due to the firm’s close ties with the Chinese State. This last minute change could threaten to delay the nationwide rollout of 5G.

“This year staying connected has taken on a new profound importance – from keeping in touch with loved ones and competing in Zoom quizzes, to helping us tackle Covid-19,” said science minister Amanda Solloway. “This new state of the art facility backed by Government funding will enable our brightest researchers and engineers to better understand how 5G can help connect us all, creating new business opportunities, while delivering green efficiencies across the UK.”

Elodie Viau, director of telecommunications at ESA, said: “ESA’s novel 5G Hub will showcase how space technology enables connectivity, partnering with industry to foster innovation in the realms of autonomous vehicles and smart cities, and to enable machines to exchange information with one another via the Internet of Things.”

“Adding satellites to existing terrestrial 5G infrastructure is essential to ensure a reliable and safe telecommunications network that supports such connectivity, which in turn promotes a seamless and more environmentally friendly experience. Investing in space improves life on Earth.”

This UK is keen to be a global leader in 5G due to the potential billions in economic gains that this could provide.

Last month, the Government acquired bankrupt firm OneWeb which is launching a satellite constellation up into space with the ultimate goal of beaming broadband-speed internet back down to Earth.

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