UK and 5G – Hosting the World’s First Ocean-Based Marine Testbed and Investment into 5G

04-12-2020 | By Sam Brown

5G technology is slowly making its way into infrastructure, and the recent UK Government 5G facility, as well as the world’s first ocean-based marine testbed, demonstrate the UKs strong desire to invest in the technology. Why has 5G taking time to integrate and develop, what are the new projects, and what will they help develop?

Why has 5G integration been slow?

5G is the next generation of mobile technology. It will bring about significantly larger download speeds, lower latency, and more simultaneous connected devices than any generation of cellular communication before it. However, the technology is still in its infancy and is still restricted to key areas, including major city centres with mass rollout still to be undertaken. Even then, reports of 5G speeds vary depending on the network operator, with some users only experiencing mildly larger download speeds. 

There are many factors in play that have caused the slow rollout of 5G. The first, and arguably the most prominent, is the mass rejection of Chinese developed hardware by western nations, including the US and UK. Huawei, one of Chinas largest developers of telecommunications, have already been installing 5G infrastructure in China with significant results, and the banning of such equipment in the west prevents network operators from using already established hardware. 

The second factor that affects the ability for 5G to be integrated in mass is the use of smaller wavelengths. Smaller wavelengths allow for higher data rates due to the increase in frequency, but smaller wavelength radio propagates less than lower wavelengths. Therefore, 5G base stations cannot reach as far as their 4G and 3G counterparts, thus more 5G cell stations need to be installed. This problem is further complicated when permits are required to install these stations; not every area is as accepting to 5G as the engineers who install them.

Thirdly, COVID-19 has had a major impact on global technology and construction. The furlough schemes have seen the government foot the bill for the wages of millions, while companies have either downsized or halted their operations to save funds during national lockdowns. Such lockdowns also affect telecom companies in their ability to continue development of new network technologies as well as installing the needed infrastructure to drive 5G.

However, the light is at the end of the tunnel, a COVID vaccine is on its way, and 5G technologies are starting to show up around the world. Now, the UK government is investing in creating a 5G testing facility, and Plymouth is going to be operating the world’s first marine-based 5G testbed.

UK Government Backs 5G Facility in Oxfordshire

Recognising the importance of 5G and satellite technologies, the UK government has announced that it will be granting over £3 million in a 5G testing facility in Oxfordshire. The testing facility will provide researchers and businesses alike to experiment and develop new 5G products and services on the Harwell campus. 

However, the test facility will also link 5G technology with satellite and will drive development in 5G-satellite hybrid communications. It is hoped that such a system will provide better internet coverage in rural and remote areas that otherwise have poor access to existing infrastructure. The use of low-earth orbiting satellites, such as those being deployed by Starlink, can allow for remote areas to potentially have 5G access. The European Space Agency has backed the use of satellite technology with 5G via a contract. While the development of the site is still underway, multiple employers have pledged to create thousands of jobs for the tech industry to help speed up the integration of 5G into UK infrastructure.

Plymouth to Host World’s First 5G Ocean-Based Marine Testbed

While many 5G test sites exist far away from the coast, Vodafone has announced their plans to create the world’s first 5G network that is aimed at serving marine applications. The private 5G network, which is being constructed using Nokia equipment, will be situated in the Plymouth Sound and allow developers and researchers to experiment with 5G, and how it can provide benefits to marine applications for boats, buoys, and underwater vessels.

The private network will offer both 4G and 5G services, but the underlying network will utilise Nokia Digital Automation Cloud. This platform allows for the development of high-bandwidth, hyper-fast networking and edge-computation systems which 5G is perfect for dealing with. Business and researchers who are eligible will be given free access to the network.

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By Sam Brown