Let’s talk about 5G

What is it and why do we need it?

Another exciting 5G headline appears on your notifications; “Are you ready for 5G?”, “A world-first in 5G trial”, “5G open for business” but behind the hype, what does it all actually mean and what benefits will it bring?

 ‘Fifth generation technology’ is poised to bring about some significant changes, possibly one of the most notable and impactful to our day-to-day lives, is that of coverage. Coverage will be extended beyond existing limitations because infrastructure that’s currently in place for 3G and 4G signals will be used a lot more efficiently by operators and new technologies such as milimeter wave (mmWave) will allow operators to deliver coverage in areas that were previously deemed too expensive and too difficult.

 Internet coverage plays a massive role in our daily lives. Many of our daily interactions from the moment we wake up to when we go to bed require reliable internet, whether it’s dialling into an important business meeting, traveling a long journey viewing our favourite show or contacting family/friends back home, a constant flow of internet connection is essential. And this ‘always on’ connectivity is only going to become more essential as the list of connected gadgets, devices, applications and objects powered by the internet constantly grows. Technology, robust enough to keep pace with these changes is what’s needed and 5G promises to deliver!

Step forward 5G, the network of networks! 5G could be described as a ‘suite’ of technologies that promise to enhance existing networks/devices and enable consumer services such as virtual reality and ultra-high definition video, as well as help address business challenges in markets such as healthcare, manufacturing and transportation. Previously, existing networks were not rolled out with efficient density due to economic reasons and this is where 5G and new signals like mmWave will make a huge difference. Together, they put mobile network coverage that was not previously viable now within reach and beyond this, these new signals including 5G NR (licensed 5G), WiGig in buildings and mmWave (unlicensed 5G) will enable exciting emerging technologies through the combination of huge bandwidth and low delay (low-latency) that they uniquely deliver. In turn, giving us the ability to transfer a larger amount of data and information in real-time to our phones, gadgets, devices and applications (known as the Internet of Things) than ever before.

Here at Liverpool’s 5G Test bed, the 5G we’re particularly interested in is the one that has hopped on to a completely different radio spectrum frequency, an unlicensed part of the spectrum, meaning accessibility and affordability, paving the way for other emerging devices and wireless technologies.

Here’s why…This unlicensed 5G operates in the 60GHz frequency which for now, ranges from 57GHz-71GHz and brings about multi-Gigabit bandwidths compared with the 36 Megabits typical of broadband in the UK today. Telecommunications networks achieve reliability through the installation of diverse paths to towns and cities with the cost shared between large numbers of users. However, diverse routes become expensive to achieve at local level, digging trenches for fibre and flying new cables between poles in urban areas so any failures or damage results in lost connectivity and a knock-on cost for repairs.

However, mmWave technology goes hand in hand with the 60GHz frequency and offers up some unique qualities, one major one being that diverse paths can be created cost-effectively even at street-level. These meshes deliver reliability by automatically bypassing faults until they can be fixed (another way of describing this is self-healing). They also automatically share bandwidth between available routes avoiding a continuous cycle of congestion and step-wise upgrade in conventional networks as demand builds.

The combination of reliability and scalability makes mmWave distribution networks perfect for supporting health and social care applications that need to work all of the time – like those for patients and care service users for example. Other industries set to adopt this technology and benefit from it include: autonomous vehicles, robotic surgery and manufacturing.

Another one of these unique qualities is ‘low latency’. Low latency simply means there’s a shorter delay between sending and receiving information between devices. The time delay we can expect with 5G is so short that human beings can’t detect it. This should make for a much more pleasurable user experience!

Our testbed members are led by Sensor City and include: CGA Simulation, AIMES, Inventya, DefProc, Digital Creativity in Disability, Liverpool City Council, Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust (RLBUHT), The E-Health Cluster, Liverpool University, and Liverpool John Moores University. We are partnering with with Bristol based tech company Blu Wireless Technology and using their tailored 60GHz mm Wave technology, which is licence free and uses existing public-service fibre infrastructure (making it a lower-cost choice). Street-level wireless mesh networks and unobtrusive radios are mounted on buildings and street furniture and they transmit the internet connection.

It’s a more practical and cost-effective way of delivering 5G technology than deploying fibre to every home and is extremely well suited to built-up urban areas.

Liverpool 5G Test bed has many exciting plans for 5G technology, which can benefit our communities and harness the innovation and technical talent to be found here in the city.