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5G ‘sharing’ proposed following trials at University of Sussex

(Left to right) Dr Falah Ali and Professor Maziar Nekovee of the University of Sussex and Dr Richard Rudd of Plum Consulting carry out sophisticated measurements of high-frequency waves as part of 5G trials

Ultra-fast 5G frequencies will need to be shared by telecoms providers in order to bring high-speed mobile broadband to all corners of the UK, according to researchers at the University of Sussex.

The radical model being investigated by the team would harness the latest advances in wireless networks and cognitive radio techniques to intelligently share out frequencies ‘on demand’.

This would be a significant departure from 4G, where the spectrum was carved up and frequencies auctioned off for exclusive use by individual companies.

But in order to support things like ultra-high-definition video and virtual reality on mobile phones across the UK, much higher frequencies are needed for 5G. Although there is much more bandwidth available, these higher frequency ranges could become very ‘crowded’ with 5G taking off, meaning that the only future-proof solution is to share.

Professor Maziar Nekovee, Head of Engineering and Design at the University of Sussex, said: “These millimetre-wave frequencies are already used for satellites, military applications, radio astronomy and mobile backhaul (the ultra-high capacity links that are used by mobile operators to connect thousands of 4G masts to their network). 

“Using the same approach for 5G as we did for 4G would be hugely wasteful of a precious resource and could cause problems for existing users of these ultra-high frequencies.”

Dr Falah Ali, Leader of the Communications Research Group at the University of Sussex, said: “The mmWave is the next frontier in wireless communications to meet the future demand for more bandwidth and capacity, driven by the expected massive increase in connected devices and mobile data traffic.”

The team have been working with UK spectrum experts Plum Consulting to conduct highly sophisticated radio-channel measurements in the 26-30 GHz frequency range, which are aimed at showing how well 5G could ‘nicely’ share the spectrum with other services.

The initial results from this work, which show the importance of accounting for signals reflected from buildings, vehicles and other objects in the environment, have already been used to validate new models being standardised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Geneva.

Dr Richard Rudd, of Plum, commented “Sussex University has provided an ideal testbed environment to investigate and quantify some of these effects.”

With industry working intensely on writing the standard for 5G radio and network technologies by 2018, these measurements will help inform OFCOM in the UK, and the ITU globally, in developing and allocating frequencies.

The UK Government has pledged to make the UK a world leader in 5G and just last month announced it was investing £16m in testbeds and trials.

Professor Nekovee, former head of 5G research at Samsung, believes that the entertainment space is likely to be the first major beneficiary. He said “5G phase one is really focused on giving us ultra-fast mobile broadband.

“With technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality racing ahead, we really need 5G in order for our infrastructure to catch up. From 2020, VR and AR will become commonplace on mobile devices and will deliver the first big transformation of the 5G era.

“Then we’ll see an explosive growth in the Internet of Things from around 2025. Things like smart cities, automation and smart grids for factories of the future will become a reality. This is a brave new world.”

The research team in the University’s School of Engineering and Informatics are now planning a series of projects looking at future applications, such as robotics and self-driving vehicles, drawing on the School’s research expertise in 5G mobile communications, Artificial Intelligence and autonomous systems engineering.

Sussex is the only UK university which was invited to be a member of the 5G Infrastructure Association, the European industry-led think tank behind the European Commission’s 1.2-billion-Euro 5G Public Private Partnership (5G PPP).

By: James Hakner
Last updated: Tuesday, 25 April 2017