By Steve McCaskill
The 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey intends to launch a full 5G network across the Guildford Campus testbed by 2018, claiming it will help establish the United Kingdom as a leader in the next generation of wireless networks.
The testbed is already active, offering LTE connectivity to academics and students but from 2016, some 5G functionality will be introduced, culminating in a full scale network two years later offering 10G bps.
The 5GIC is now officially open and researchers have already shown off the world's first 'ultra high definition' 4K video transmission on 5G as well as a new radio technology called Sparse Coding Multiple Access (SCMA) that can boost capacity for the Internet of things (IoT).
Testbed Goes Live
"The testbed we have here is powerful enough to serve a town as big as Guildford," said professor Rahim Tafazolli, director of the 5GIC at the official opening of the center. "It will be used by researchers, students and SMBs. It will be used as a playground to test new applications and services."
Tafazolli outlined the center and its members' vision for 5G and hopes the standard can be finalized by 2016 ahead of a proposed commercial launch in 2020.
"I personally believe the first version of 5G will be available in 2020. Not all the functionalities will be available in 2020, this will [roll-out] over time."
He said the testbed would make researchers' innovations more impactful. The 5GIC plans to hold events encouraging students to create applications and hopes to eventually hold a "hackathon" that would encourage participants to "break down" the network.
"This will make 5G more robust, more resilient and more secure," claimed Tafazolli. "The testbed will change over time and get full 5G functionality and capabilities."
The testbed is powered by macrocells as well as small cells and indoor access points that "fill in" coverage. The network is monitored from the 5GIC, located within the University of Surrey, which also houses proof of concept labs that simulate and model technical innovations proposed by researchers.
The center houses 170 researchers, including representatives from all four major U.K. operators, Huawei, Samsung, Fujitsu and others. It has access to £70 million worth of funding and is keen to work with both big businesses and startups.
"We're the first of its kind in the world to focus our efforts on 5G," said Tafazolli. "It's been going for the past three years. We now officially opened two years ago and …we have now grown to 24 partners.
"We have made special provision for embracing the membership of startups and small enterprises to benefit from working with us and industrial partners and to use our testbed facility."
The collaborative environment reduces squabbling between various parties, with a strategy board steering the direction of development and an organization which commercializes any ideas. This, it is claimed, allows participants to take a long-term view and prevents progress being thwarted from things like mergers and acquisitions in the telecoms industry.
So far, the center has filed 15 patents and has already achieved 1Tbps speeds—more than 1,000 times faster the quickest 4G speed.
The 5GIC is just one of a number of international efforts at standardizing 5G, but it is confident the project can restore the United Kingdom and Europe to the forefront of mobile development.
"This is an international collaboration," said chief operating officer Keith Robson. "5G by definition is a global opportunity, but clearly as a U.K. institution we're committed that this connects with small, bright companies all the way up in the supply chain to the big companies."