Helping to deliver the next generation of mobile

The next generation 5G network will provide the extra bandwidth needed to connect thousands of sensors and beacons, enabling the so-called the ‘Internet of everything’. These sensors will help people daily, whether it’s telling driverless cars to slow down because sensors have detected an accident up ahead; showing exactly where a bus is on its route, and the number of people waiting at each stop; or allowing industrial vehicles to be controlled remotely. The possibilities are vast.

While it will follow in the footsteps of 4G, the technology associated with the fifth generation of mobile network technology will be very different. Mobile networks were originally set up to deal just with telephone calls. Today, they need far more capacity to carry the increasing volume of traffic as people access the Internet and download data. The networks are currently groaning under exploding demand, and at times, mobile devices can struggle with data uploads and downloads. The challenge for network providers is to deliver high-quality high-capacity coverage everywhere, and at any time.

5G will rely on many more high frequency bands, where signals can only travel much shorter distances. But for this to be effective, access points will need to be placed only a few hundred metres apart instead of 4G’s several kilometres. And it’s vital that nothing interferes with the signal. For 5G to work, location is vital. Suddenly, the exact location of every lamp-post fitted with an access point could be important if you’re not to lose your connection; even more so if that connection is powering a driverless car.

Connectivity will all depend on placing access points correctly; knowing what’s physically in the way of signals, and where you are in relation to them. Ordnance Survey (OS) has been chosen by the Government to develop a ground-breaking planning and mapping tool instrumental in the rollout of 5G technology across Great Britain. The next generation of wireless communications will bring Internet-connected devices into everyday life and OS is leading a consortium which is building a digital 3D twin of the real world. It will be used to determine the best locations for the 5G antennae and will be trialled in Bournemouth. If successful the project has the potential to be scaled up to cover the rest of the country, and shared with other countries as they develop their own 5G networks

The tool will let network providers visualise the best locations for placing radio antennae, to help deliver faster network speeds and better coverage that will cater for the increase of mobile and connected devices. The reason that Bournemouth was chosen is that the lay of the land is, in a small area, representative of the vast area that the network will eventually have to cover.

Here is yet another example of how we are about to lead the world

“If you think about creating a 3D map, the Ordnance Survey is very well-positioned to provide the information and data required to produce what we call a ‘digital twin’ of the real world,” said Richard Woodling, the project manager at OS. “So, the task is to map part of the Bournemouth area to enable us to look at positioning new aerials for 5G technologies, to identify the best place to deploy these as quickly and effectively as possible.

“These signals are very high frequency and high frequency signals are affected by very small items, so its important to know where those small items are accurately. No longer is good enough to say is it one or two meters off, it’s got to be within a few centimetres, if not less. Ordnance Survey’s data and our ability to survey at that level of detail puts us in an unprecedented position to provide that level of detail for this work.”

The project aims to capture real-world features in detail, using a resolution of 10cm. Features include street furniture such as lamp-posts, road signs, bus stops, and natural items such as trees (including the full life-cycle of foliage). Initially, it is building a ‘digital twin’ of the real world for Bournemouth, and a demonstration trial tool to help Government and network planners visualise how the rollout of the future 5G communications network can work. It will then fully document for Government and network operators, an approach to successfully rolling out 5G on a national scale.

As well as containing every mapped feature from the ground upwards, the digital model will bring in radio spectrum and meteorological data to expose areas at risk of poor signal. It will include information about current and predicted weather conditions, the position of tree foliage and vegetation, and details of future building projects, meaning mobile operators can plan reliable 5G signal coverage over the coming years. By visualising all this data from the comfort of a desk, network providers will be able to construct a virtual network in minutes; saving money, time and resource.

“I really do think that, with our obsession about precision and millimetre accuracy, the time of Ordnance Survey has come,” said Andrew Loveless, Commercial Director at OS. “The increased bandwidth of a reliable 5G network will be necessary to enable Smart Cities and the Internet of Things to reach their potential. Our role is to take away the surprises for network planners and to identify how 5G can work reliably in built environments for years to come.”

Conor Burns, the MP for Bournemouth West, added: “Precision is absolutely central to this and Ordnance Survey has precision in its DNA. We are on the verge of something amazing. The United Kingdom is an incredible place. We are a brilliant country and here is yet another example of how we are potentially about to lead the world in 5G technology.”

Connected future, connected communities

The race to define and roll out 5G continues across the world, with governments, hardware manufacturers, and operators claiming ‘first and fastest’ trials. Last December, the UK Government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published a report on the importance of connectivity in this country. The ‘Connected Future’ report outlines the steps the UK should take to become a world leader in deploying 5G mobile telecommunications networks, and ensure it can take early advantage of the new opportunities those networks might bring.

5G is expected to deliver ultra-fast, low latency (connection delay), reliable, mobile connectivity – able to support society’s increasing hunger for more and more data. 5G has the potential to transform a number of sectors, including health, transport and education, not to mention the connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) or driverless cars, and to support the Internet of Things (IoT). Future mobile networks will be critical to the UK’s economic growth and to drive our industrial base into the internet applications and services economy. This has the potential to put the UK at the forefront of this emerging technology.

The Commission’s main message is that mobile connectivity has become a necessity. Society and business require almost constant connectivity, regardless of location. Although the market has driven great advances since the advent of the mobile phone, government must now play an active role to ensure that basic services are available wherever we live, work and travel, while our roads, railways and city centres must be made 5G-ready as quickly as possible.

The report goes on to advise that a lack of Government action risks the UK finding itself once again near the bottom of the league tables for connectivity as 5G is rolled out. Government, acting as the ‘digital champion’ must ensure the country has the infrastructure in place to deliver 5G across our major centres and transport networks, with the report recommending:

  • Major roads – our motorways must have roadside networks fit for the future. The infrastructure should be in place by 2025.
  • Key rail routes – the railway network must rapidly improve connectivity. This will be best delivered in future by a trackside network. Government should provide a plan by 2017, and the infrastructure should be in place on main rail routes by 2025.
  • Towns and cities – Local Authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships should work with network providers to develop approaches that enable the deployment of the tens of thousands of small wireless cells we expect to need in our urban centres.

Getting 5G deployment right will be critical in a future where connectivity is becoming integral to almost all parts of the economy, and the UK will put its future growth and competitiveness at risk if it falls behind.