All shipshape and Bristol fashion for upcoming live UK 5G test

Nov 28, 2017

via Flickr © Robert.Pittman (CC BY-ND 2.0)

via Flickr © Robert.Pittman (CC BY-ND 2.0)

  • Bristol is the UK's leading "Smart City"
  • Years of planning and investment in broadband connectivity now paying off
  • Strategic collaboration between academe, BT and Nokia vital to programme
  • Tight integration of old and new technologies for the "always connected" experience

As yet there are no commonly agreed standards for the deployment of 5G technology. Indeed, there is no detailed global consensus of what eventually will actually constitute a real 5G network except that will provide higher capacity than that available on 4G and will permit a higher density of mobile broadband users whilst also supporting device-to-device, more reliable, and massive M2M communications. A 5G network will also have lower latency than current 4G equipment and will reduce rates of battery power consumption, to enable the ubiquitous implementation of I0T (the Internet of Things).

So, at the moment it's all pretty broad brush strokes stuff as interested parties in various parts of the world thrash out their distinct 5G network visions. The three leading contenders right now are: 1) A super-efficient mobile network that delivers better network performance for less cost of investment and a quicker return on it. This model addresses the dearest wish of operators and CSPs which is to see the unit cost of data transport falling at about the same rate as the volume of data demand is rising.  2)  A super-fast mobile network of densely clustered next generation small cells providing contiguous coverage over urban areas (in the first instance) and eventually achieving the goal of true and ubiquitous wide-area mobility. 3) A converged fibre-wireless network using  the 20 - 60 GHz millimetre wave bands. Proponents of this approach point out that it would allow very-wide-bandwidth radio channels that could provide data-access speeds of up to 10 Gbit/s. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

What is certain is that 5G is not a further development or ongoing evolution from 4G but a fundamentally fresh approach in that it is predicated on and driven by new use cases and the needs and requirements of end users, and the citizens of Bristol, in the English West Country, will be among the first in the world to experience and test smart urban applications when a live, 5G-based test bed is deployed in and around Bristol's Millennium Square in March next year. The two-day event, which will take place on March 17 and March 18, 2018, will be a very public experiment and proof of concept of 5G to demonstrate the technological benefits wrought of the collaboration in a joint research programme undertaken by the University of Bristol, BT and Nokia.

At a press conference and round table held in London yesterday, Dimitra Simeonidou, professor of high performance networks at the University of Bristol, announced that some 5000 people will attend and participate in the 5G test bed demonstrations and will be able to interact with robots, connected cars and smart bicycles. There will also be virtual reality applications, augmented reality and gaming.

Professor Simeonidou said that the demonstrations will be "a true test of the kind of low latency which will be required to make 5G a reality". She also confirmed that the test bed demonstrations, services and applications will be closely monitored for the key performance indicators that will be embedded in the systems to measure the effectiveness and utility of the demonstrations. She stressed that as 5G is in it's earliest infancy the intent of the tests will be to focus on the reliability of the the experimental services and to demonstrate, in a real-world setting, just how 5G, 4G and Wi-Fi can be made to work together to provide a trues sense of what it will really mean when people are"always connected".

Neil McCrae, the head of Network Architecture at BT told the assembled journalists that it the text bed will be an opportunity for the UK's incumbent telco to gain some real life experience in how it can expand and fine tune various aspects of its mobile network capabilities under stress-testing conditions and, at this early stage in the development of 5G technology, to get a better handle on what 5G will initially be used for. He told his audience, “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.”

Bristol: the UK's leading smart city

Bristol has been focusing on the provisions of high-bandwidth connectivity and infrastructure to its citizens and businesses for years now and the strategy is paying (digital) dividends. Just last month Bristol knocked London from its perch and became the leading smart city in the UK. Its ascent to the top of the smart city totem pole is a direct result of municipal strategy and carefully planned innovation programmes. The 'Bristol Is Open' project, a joint venture between the University of Bristol and Bristol City Council, provides a large scale connectivity testbed and the new City Operations Centre ensures that services are effectively implemented.

Julie Snell,  the managing director of Bristol Is Open, said: "Cities the world over must look to technology to address the way they manage their resources and infrastructure to deliver innovative services for citizens and businesses. Bristol has shown leadership in bringing together industry, government, academia and citizens to form a collaborative platform for the development of its Smart Cities programme. Being recognised in the UK Smart Cities Index as the city that has made the most significant growth in its Smart City program is testament to the vision and support of Bristol City Council, the fantastic results for the University of Bristol research and development department and the very many other players in the City who all contribute to Bristol Smart City."

Connectivity has long been important to Bristol and the North Somerset/South Gloucester region. At the level of municipal government the strategy has been to ensure the efficient management and day-to-day running of the city by planning and providing improved services to its people. New economic opportunities have been created for companies across a wide range of sectors sectors including technology, media, healthcare and logistics. Furthermore, Bristol has been proactive in supporting the needs of its world-renowned academic bodies.

As far as the March 2018 5G proof of concept exercise is concerned, the test network will run over the City Council’s dedicated fibre infrastructure around the Bristol’s Millennium square and will bring together the university’s research expertise with Nokia’s 5G network systems and radio access points laid on BT spectrum. The test network will be used to measure and validate the deployment of 5G architecture and will integrate tried and tested comms technologies technologies with innovative new ones including SDN, NFV, network slicing, and edge computing as well as Massive MIMO radio access solutions. In addition to experimental technology solutions provided by R&D teams at Bristol University, commercial systems will also be deployed including AirScale and AirFrame equipment from Nokia.

Summing up the purpose behind the upcoming 5G test bed experiments, Professor Simeonidou said, “It is evident that collaboration between interested parties will be crucial if 5G is to be a success. We are trying to create a national asset. We are building a platform that will add value to all - to operators, big businesses, SMEs, and individual end users. The world is watching and interest in what we are doing is very high. The idea is to learn and then to disseminate what we learn to the rest of the UK and so create this national asset.”

When it comes to actual 5G terminals and devices no one, it seems, has any idea what they might look like or how big they might be. It is commonly thought that they'll probably be a bit like a smart phone, or a tablet or some kind of a laptop, or maybe something like a smart watch or a TV or, well anything really.

That's all for later when the shape and scope of commercial 5G networks is finalised and standardised. The terminals that will be on show and in use in Bristol next March will be big prototypes straight out of the R&D labs. There will be two of them - mounted in golf buggies! It will be worth the trip to Bristol just to see that. With 5G the Sinclair C5 could have a whole new lease of life. And there will be lots of new jobs created due to the need for a man with a red flag to walk ahead of the wheelbarrows holding the 5G terminals to warn the population that very high tech kit is on the move.

By the way, the saying "all shipshape and Bristol fashion" came into common parlance in the 18th century. The port of Bristol has the second-highest high tidal range (some 43 feet) in the world. In the days before the city's Floating Harbour was built (which was the ultimate bit of high-tech at the time of its construction) ships at the quayside would be on their sides and aground on estuarial mud  at low tide. Obviously anything not tied down or otherwise secured would crash about and get broken and damage vessels and cargos alike. So the port instituted a regime of extreme tidiness and and a policed policy of lashing down anything that could be lashed down. That's "shipshape and Bristol fashion". Not many people know that.

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