UK to be 5G ‘playground’ as Huawei, Samsung and Telefonica set up joint research facility

Just as the UK is finally getting set for ‘4G’ mobile services, along comes someone to say: “No, that’s not good enough. Go make 5G happen.”

The fifth generation of mobile communications is currently a nebulous thing – technically speaking, we’re not even onto 4G yet, as that designation is only supposed to be applied to LTE-Advanced and subsequent technologies. But whatever it will entail, the intention now is to have a good chunk of it developed at a new 5G Innovation Centre, housed at the University of Surrey.

£35m ($56m) is to go into the project, UK chancellor George Osborne said on Monday as part of a wider announcement about research funding. £11.6m will come from the UK government itself, while around £24m will come from a consortium of companies including Huawei, Samsung, Telefonica Europe, Fujitsu Laboratories Europe, Rohde-Schwarz and AIRCOM International.

Back to the front

As far as the UK telecoms industry goes, this is a real shot in the arm. Once upon a time, European countries including the UK were at the forefront of 2G and even 3G devices and services, but recent years have seen the mobile industry’s base shift very much in the direction of the U.S.

Professor Rahim Tafazolli, who heads up the university’s Centre for Communication Systems Research (CCSR), is understandably very excited.

“We have been doing advanced research and we have influenced many technologies for 3G and 4G,” he told me. “This time, on 5G, our research is going to be quite visible, not just us contributing indirectly. The UK will be the playground for advanced technologies for mobile broadband communications.”

As I mentioned, 5G is not very well-defined yet. What we do know is that it’s going to have to be very fast – Tafazolli mentioned cell capacity of 10Gbps – as well as energy-efficient and, most importantly, spectrum-efficient.

“Mobile data traffic is increasing exponentially year-on-year,” he said. “The amount of spectrum that we have now is not sufficient to carry all that traffic. We are soon going to run out of capacity, even with LTE, unless there is a huge amount of spectrum made available – and if we are doubling traffic every year then even twice the spectrum [that is currently available] is not sufficient.”

All together now

The CCSR has already been working on 5G for the past few years – as, no doubt, have the consortium’s members. However, these players haven’t been working together until now.

“We’re bringing all the major stakeholders together and we are going to decide on the advanced technologies and test them end-to-end,” Tafazolli said. “Once we are happy with the set of technologies that we have developed, in terms of performance, then we will push that particular technology towards standardization.”

So when can we look forward to 5G? These generations tend to advance about once a decade, so Tafazolli reckons R&D now should result in a standard in around 10 years’ time, with deployment after that.