Bristol this year has seen the establishment of a live 5G proof of concept (PoC) to test smart city applications in the city centre, as part of a joint research initiative led by the university, BT and Nokia.

The main focus of this investigation is on the reliability of service and how 5G can work with 4G and Wi-Fi to give an “always connected” experience.

The university’s Smart Internet Lab will establish the network, with edge compute applications at the heart of its plans. Future tests will focus on 5G-enabled IoT use cases such as immersive tourism and connected transport.

Among the technologies that will be tested over the course of 2018 will be 5G enablers and enhancers such as massive MIMO, software-defined networking and network slicing.

Neil McCrae, chief architect at BT, said the telco aims to learn more about how to expand the understanding of the role of networks and likely use cases such as M2M communications, drones or emergency services networks.

“We’re gaining a real-world understanding of how 5G can be used within dense urban environments. This is crucial to building meaningful use cases for future macro-scale 5G networks. 5G is teaching us that collaboration is essential,” he said [[i]].

BT needs to be able to “do more for less, with less” in the future, he pointed out, adding that it needs practical experience of how 5G technologies will work when loaded with real user traffic. “We want to look at this from an operational perspective – how to manage network slicing… and looking at how 5G might be used in the real world beyond enhanced mobile broadband connectivity,” he said.

The test network will run over Bristol City Council’s dedicated fibre infrastructure around Millennium Square using Nokia’s 5G prototype networks, as well as its commercial AirScale and AirFrame offerings. The test networks will run in some BT and some trial spectrum, in the 3.5 GHz, 26-28 GHz and 60-70 GHz bands. The emerging Li-Fi technology will also be tested in indoor environments

Bristol is clearly going to be a busy place where 5G in general is concerned and 5G+edge in particular. There has already been a 5G multi-access edge compute (MEC) network architecture trial, involving Interdigital, the Bristol is Open digital initiative and independent TV production company CTVC. In fact Bristol is a hotbed of 5G edge R&D in the UK. Many of the projects taking place in the testbed hosted by the city and its university have an edge cloud aspect.

But Bristol is obviously not alone, and as 5G+edge tests mount up around the world, the clearest case, in the short term, still relates to improving and personalizing the video experience for consumers, as this will remain the biggest driver of mobile usage for years to come. That is throwing new light on solutions which add compute capabilities and intelligence to the content delivery networks that are increasingly embedded into mobile platforms.

These decisions will help shape the services MNOs can offer and optimize on top of 5G, and how they monetize them. Some will be heavily infrastructure-focused, building out RAN, edge cloud and CDN assets to support high quality direct services, but also to enable a wide range of MVNOs, enterprises and, in future, service slices. Others will want to harness third party infrastructure, working with webscalers and seeking to move up the stack into device management, security, optimized content delivery and even applications.

In converging connectivity, cloud and content, and pushing all of it closer to the human or IoT user, the operators are looking at the potential to drive new revenue streams, and they are certainly creating opportunities for smart vendors to enhance their place in the MNO value chain.

Other organizations are eyeing the MNO opportunity too, coming from IoT, apps development, and content delivery network (CDN) fields. In the former category, Amazon AWS is working with Nokia, Saguna and other mobile edge leaders to support IoT use cases. In the latter category is Cloudflare, which recently unveiled a platform to allow developers to execute their code closer to end users. The solution, Cloudflare Workers, offers a middle way between processing everything centrally (with implications for latency and transport costs), and executing on the user’s own device, which can be marred by limited processing resources in the gadget, and security risks.

And Real Wireless, as a leading wireless advisory firm with a strong technology expertise offering, is involved as well – in general techno-economic analysis of 5G, of course, but also in specific projects, such as the AutoAir initiative for connected and autonomous vehicles, and the NORMA report on network slicing, to which Real Wireless’ unique analytic tools contributed. Clearly, potential 5G opportunities are already inspiring – and attracting – a group of players as diverse as the opportunities themselves.

[i] http://www.bris.ac.uk/news/2017/november/5g-mobile-networks.html

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