Leading the 5G charge

Professor Rahim Tafazolli, of the University of Surrey, is at the forefront of UK’s research effort into fifth generation mobile networking standards

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4G mobile network services may be only just be rolling out in the UK, but work is already underway on the next generation, 5G.

In the UK, that research is being led by the University of Surrey. The university’s Centre for Communication Systems Research (CCSR) is the largest academic research centre for mobile communications in the UK, housing 130 researchers and around 90 PhD students.

The Centre’s work has contributed to the 2G, 3G and 4G standards, and in October last year it received £35 million in funding to build a new ‘Innovation Centre’ focused on 5G networking. That funding came from the UK government and from corporate sponsors including Huawei, Samsung and Telefonica.

Information Age caught up with Professor Rahim Tafazolli, head of the CCSR, about what 5G will deliver, when, and how it will spend that £35 million funding.

What does 5G really mean?

5G means the fifth generation of mobile cellular systems. Every 10 years a new standard comes out and it's given a name. At the moment we have 4G, and 5G will be the next wave of technologies for mobile cellular broadband Internet systems.

What is the objective in developing 5G?

With 3G or 4G the main driver has been speed, whereas with 5G it is about the network capacity.

We expect mobile data traffic to double every year. We are going to need around 20 times more capacity per meter squared than we are offering right now.

The second driver is the energy efficiency of networks – the cost of energy to run the network – as well as the implications for the environment.

As mobile data traffic doubles, the cost of electricity will double every year too. It's as simple as that. It's a linear relationship, and we want to provide huge amounts of capacity for a fraction of the energy consumption that we are using right now.

I don't want to be accused of scaremongering but we are going to be running out of capacity soon"
Professor Rahim Tafazolli
University of Surrey
 

When do you expect the demand for 5G to become apparent?

I think we will start feeling the congestion and lack of capacity in around three years' time. I don't want to be accused of scaremongering but we are going to be running out of capacity soon.

Which part of the spectrum would 5G work on?

We are looking at all of the spectrum below 5 GHz, which includes 4G spectrum, 3G and 2G spectrum, as well as some of the broadcasting spectrum which is 700MHz.

We will also be exploring the possibility of using milimetric bands of 60GHz all the way through to 90GHz. A huge amount of bandwidth is available in that frequency band.

We are going to explore and identify the characteristics of the propagation in these sort of frequencies, and whether they are suitable for a mobile radio.

And when do you think 5G will be commercially available?

It was in the past few years, 4G has been deployed in most West European countries and the US in the last two years. The UK was a bit late because of the spectrum auction, and it will go on for another eight to 10 years' time.

But if you look each generation, from 2G to 3G was about 12 years, 3G to 4G was about 10 years and 4G to 5G I estimate will be about eight years, a maximum nine before it is introduced to market.

We need to start researching and carry out standardisation now if we believe in this trend in order to specify what other future technologies and innovations we can include in the standards. That begins now.

Have there been any standards developed yet?

We have already started work on Release 12 of the 3GPP standard [the first iteration of the mobile networking standard since 4G].

How will you use your £35 million funding?

We're going to build a new purpose-built research centre, which will be good enough to accommodate our own researchers and businesses that want to come and research with us.

The funding will be spent on the research equipment because we want to do experimental simulative research and mathematical analysis. We plan to deploy a test bed on campus, which consists of a number of base stations and mobile terminals and covers an area of four kilometres squared. We’ll use that for demonstrations and proofs-of-concept.