By Steve McCaskill
Speed will not be the key differentiator of 5G networks, according to the head of the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey, who says the next generation of mobile connectivity will be user-centric, offer low latency and offer an impression of "infinite capacity."
Professor Rahim Tafazolli outlined the center's vision for 5G, promising that the new standard would support all manner of connected devices, ranging from smartphones and sensors to connected cars and those supporting mission-critical processes like energy, transport and government services.
He said 5G would intelligently understand the demands of users in real time, dynamically allocating network resources depending on whether the connected device needed voice or data connectivity. 5G will also be energy-efficient and reliable—essential for the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT), which forms a vital component of the center's research.
Tafazoli said this user-centric approach differs from the development of 2G, 3G and 4G, all of which adopted a device-centric model, and allows 5G to become a future-proof network standard for all kinds of connected devices.
"It must be fundamentally different to how we've designed networks before," he said at an event in London. "We have no idea what applications will be used in 2020, never mind 2040."
Despite speed not being a key differentiator, he claimed 5G would offer up to 10G bps connectivity, and thanks to a new technique, researchers have been able to reach speeds of 100G bps and 800G bps, although this has been in an extremely dense environment.
"It's completely different. It's not written in any textbook," boasted Tafazoli, who said the technique could even be implemented today for 4G as the method is independent of the waveform. 5G will also offer the same capacity regardless of the user's position within a cell and will even be able to detect which way a device is facing, offering more accurate and energy-efficient location services than GPS.
The 5GIC is funded by the government and a range of partners from the mobile industry, including BT, EE, Vodafone, Telefonica, Fujitsu and Huawei, and plans to build a test-bed network at the university's Guildford campus by 2016.
Construction on the test bed began in April and will take a year to complete. There will be 41 access points located around the campus, using spectrum from BT, EE and Vodafone along with macro cell and small cell technology, while Fujitsu will be providing the cloud computing capabilities and Huawei the radio access gears and its networking expertise.
"Such a test bed will be a birth bed for the emerging field of 5G technologies," added Tong Wen of Huawei, which is contributing £5m to the 5GIC. "We put a strong emphasis in Europe and working with the European ecosystem towards 5G realization."
Vodafone said there was a "lot to celebrate" about 5G and said it was great that such research was being conducted in the U.K., but was keen to point out that the new standard would not replace 4G and would co-exist with LTE and other previous generations of mobile communications.
"4G has proven to be a fantastic technology," said Luke Ibbetson, Vodafone's head of R&D. "By no means do we see 4G running out of steam for some time."
The center is just one of a number of projects around that are dedicated to 5G research, but the 5GIC hopes to establish itself as a leader in the field, with Tafazoli declaring his hope that it would become a "world-leading center for a multi-disciplinary communications model."