Yesterday’s AutoAir event at the Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire was a great event to launch and celebrate the deployment of a 5G testbed capability. Now we have the opportunity to assess the impact of real world 5G in the context of transport routes.

Millbrook’s newly built testbed has been designed specifically for connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) development to ensure constant connectivity regardless of speed of travel. Publicly demonstrating the wireless network in operation yesterday marks the closing of a significant phase of the project for Real Wireless. We have worked closely with technology development teams from Airspan, Blu Wireless and Quortus, understanding the keys features of the technology under development. That understanding has been translated into enhancements of our radio network dimensioning toolset and we have delivered radio planned site location recommendations to the network build team on the Millbrook estate.

The event comprised live demonstrations on the test circuits, an exhibition hall and a panel discussion. I chaired the presentation and panel session that kicked off the day which turned out to be a fascinating exchange of  views on the potential of 5G for transport and the role of AutoAir to help inform that vision. Leaders from consortium members – Millbrook, Airspan Networks,  Dense Air, DCMS, and 5GIC – were part of the panel, along with Ofcom and Telefonica who have supported AutoAir on a number of fronts.

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We were lucky to see both the 60GHz mmWave and the sub-6 GHz networks in action on the Millbrook circuit, demonstrated by streaming 4K videos between fast-moving vehicles and coaches. This brilliantly captured the capabilities of a dense small cell network, as well as the possibilities of high capacity data uplinks between CAVs. We were also offered a chance to see the prototype of the 5G New Radio small cell base station, which was developed by Airspan and the University of Surrey and is a vital part of the technology for the AutoAir project.

Finally, the exhibition hall provided detailed insights into the specific components of AutoAir. One great example was Blu Wireless’ mmWave live demo, which creates 5G connectivity for high speed transport; a core piece of Millbrook’s circuit testing that could allow seamless connectivity when travelling by train in the future.

While the potential benefits of 5G connecting vehicles are considerable, the challenges should not be underestimated. As Alex Burns said on the day, “You may get a number of cars coming up to a junction together and it’s important for those cars to be able to talk to each other to establish who has priority. For us to get the biggest benefit from autonomous cars, we need those cars to be able to talk to each other, to talk to the infrastructure around them and to really understand not just where they are, but what is happening further down the road.”

In this one scenario there is medium-term promise of improved road safety as cars communicate with one another and emergency vehicles become able to warn other cars to avoid the scene of an accident.

A team from Real Wireless was there on the day and it was a great opportunity to share views and expertise with people and firms that have a commitment and stake in the potential of this market. We were presenting on the outputs of our work on radio network dimensioning and planning, and also on how Real Wireless translates our technology due diligence knowledge into the ongoing techno-economic analysis that will support our neutral host business model validation work for AutoAir. Whilst we all want the technologies to deliver, the AutoAir consortium is also well aware that commercial viability is crucial for realisation of this vision on the road and rail routes of the UK.

For those who have had the privilege to take part in this ground breaking project and the two hundred odd press and visitors that turned up for the demonstration, there’s an overwhelming sense that the future of transport and 5G feels hopeful, exciting and just a little bit closer. With the thought leadership in the UK from this UK5G project we not only aim to influence the development of the UK market but also overseas.

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