Q&A: Britain's 5G "playground" gets £35m funding

The University of Surrey is developing a 5G test-bed to boost research

9 Oct 2012

4G networks are only just arriving in the UK, but 5G is already in the works.

A £35m project at the University of Surrey - funded by the government and industry - is looking to develop 5G systems and influence the eventual standard by creating a 4km test bed with speeds of up to 1Gbit/sec at each cell.

While the technology isn't set to go commercial for another decade, work has already long begun. We spoke to Professor Rahim Tafazolli, head of Surrey's Centre for Communication Systems Research, to find out more about the project.

Q. What will your project do?

A. What we want to do is set up a real-time and near-real functional test-bed, an outdoor and indoor test-bed, so we can test advanced technologies beyond 4G and influence the future direction of the mobile communication standardisation, which we call 5G – fifth generation.

For this, we are going to roll out a test-bed over an area of 4km squared, covering mainly the university as well as outside the university to motorways and high streets in Guildford.

Q. What makes it 5G – what different technologies are you using?

A. We are going to look at address technologies based on OFDM [Orthogonal Frequency-Division Multiplexing, a data encoding technique] as well as non-OFDM technologies - it mainly comes under the category of non-orthogonal wave forms.

It’s going to be used as a playground for local companies as well as large companies who want to join in

Other types of technology we are looking at is trying to exploit the information content of the interference, rather than try to reject or avoid interference. So any signal that information comes in we’re going to extract and utilise it. We are going to use the interference...

One of the other technologies we are developing is a new air interface for spectrum below 3GHz as well as at millimetric bands like 60-90GHz, and that’s for radio access, as well as wireless, backhaul and fibre optics.

Q. What sort of hardware do you need to develop to use this network?

A. We’re probably going to look at future terminals, high-speed terminals that can support per user up to 100Mbits/sec... and also the small-cell technologies for access points for the backhaul. It’s going to be a small-cell and macro-cell heterogeneous type of network.

Small cells are very simple cells of less than 100m radius. Access points could be mounted on top of a lamppost or building – one version of that is just pure radio heads with the signal processing happening at the back end of the network. Per cell, which could be small cells, we are looking at 10Gbits/sec.

Q. How long will it take until the test-bed is ready?

A. We plan to roll out the first phase of the test-bed toward the end of 2013. We've been researching advanced fifth-generation technologies for many years through computer simulation and modelling and mathematical modelling. This test will allow us to integrate and optimise different technologies in real environments, and let us test the end-to-end performance of the applications.

Q. When will 5G arrive for consumers?

A. If you look at the history of the different generations of such systems, it takes about ten to 12 years of research and standardisation before it can be deployed. So if you start this year, you can count ten or 12 years from now when the standards are more or less in place, and after that it can be deployed.

Q. Who will have access to the test-bed?

A. Students with projects, other academia, they can come and use this to test different technologies. It’s going to be used as a playground for local companies as well as large companies who want to join in – the door is not closed.

Working closely with global companies that we have in the consortium is an asset. We get different requirements from operators, different inputs from manufacturers, and together with academia we aim to come up with really advanced, energy-efficient, health-efficient, high-capacity programme for 5G. And that’s exciting, for me, my students, my colleagues and the university.

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