|Innovation in the digital world
|Professor Rahim Tafazolli
Mobile Communications Research Group
|University of Surrey
Rahim Tafazolli is the Director of the Centre for Communications Systems Research and 5G Innovation Centre, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, The University of Surrey in the UK.
Professor Tafazolli is currently the chairman of EU Net!Works Technology Platform Expert Group and a board member of the UK Future Internet Strategy Group.
The current spectrum crunch means a shortage of supply and rising prices for users and could lead to restrictions on the development of web-enabled technologies, products and services. 5G technology that helps minimise the energy requirements of web devices is needed urgently as a new basis of an efficient, space-saving approach to spectrum.
Our ever-growing love for mobile communications is a fast lane to ‘spectrum crunch’ – we’re just running out of radio space. By current trends, data traffic is expected to increase 1,000 fold by 2020, by which time there will be an estimated (at least) 50 billion Internet-capable devices.
The electromagnetic spectrum of radio waves is another of our finite resources, shared out between a hungry media still expanding its TV and radio platforms, all the mobile web-enabled devices, emergency services and the military. With such scarcity, government control is needed to allocate elements of the spectrum – while also being an opportunity to make large sums from the private sector (£22.5 billion from the 3G (third generation mobile communications technology) auction when the industry was at a peak of optimism in 2000, and a further £2.34 billion from the 4G auction in February – not what was expected, but still a major form of revenue).
Spectrum crunch will basically mean a shortage of supply and rising prices for users, leading to a widening gap between the technology ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’, smaller markets for businesses and restrictions on the development of web-enabled technologies, products and services. Instead of the great opening up of the web, mass participation and new commercial opportunities, we’ll see a closing down.
This is why 5G is so important, even while 4G is still only just taking off. Unlike its predecessors, 5G isn’t primarily about improving speed of data rates and new video features; it’s about sustainability and making a global digital life a practical possibility. 5G is needed urgently as a new basis of an efficient, space-saving approach to the spectrum. It will also be the technology that helps minimise the energy requirements of web devices. Speed and power have always been the main drivers for the Internet. But machines that continually work harder and faster on a global scale also demand exponential increases in energy. The servers and large data computing centres involved in the Internet doubled in terms of their energy use between 2000 and 2006. The Environmental Protection Agency has predicted that demand projected for Internet services just in the USA by 2014 will require the same amount of energy as the entire energy use of the population of Australia. Again, with rising energy demand and prices, only new approaches to daily Internet access will make a digital world sustainable.
5G Innovation Centre
Although the UK played an active role in the creation of 2G (GSM) cellular standards, we have increasingly fallen behind in the succeeding generations of 3G and 4G standards. 5G is a huge opportunity for the UK to regain a world leading position and to be at the heart of new business creation and product development around the technologies. It’s already starting to happen. The University of Surrey has been given the go-ahead to set up a 5G Innovation Centre, backed up by a total of £35 million investment from a combination of the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund and a consortium of key mobile operators and infrastructure providers including Vodafone, Huawei, Samsung, Telefonica Europe, Fujitsu Laboratories Europe, Rohde & Schwarz and AIRCOM International.
The 5G Innovation Centre will be a hub for the latest research and technologies, capable of attracting telecoms giants internationally to carry out their own R&D and the basis of a cluster for the involvement of all kinds of businesses from different sectors interested in getting a lead from taking advantage of 5G platforms: media firms, gaming, health, logistics etc. The centre will live within a 5G testing environment (operating throughout the university campus and also into Guildford in order to offer a model of the different types of urban and non-urban spaces) for demonstrations and proofs of concept. The investment will be used to both build a new purpose-built research centre as a base for our own researchers and those businesses that want to come and research with us, as well as the test bed of a number of base stations and mobile terminals across an area of four kilometres squared.
In the research we will be looking at all of the spectrum below five GHz, which includes 4G spectrum, 3G and 2G spectrum, as well as some of the broadcasting spectrum which is 700 MHz. We will also be exploring the possibility of using milimetric bands of 60 GHz all the way through to 90 GHz. 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 sorts of frequencies, and whether they are suitable for a mobile radio. In terms of timings and when 5G will become commercially available, there has been a quickening in research and development over time, and this is likely to continue. From 2G to 3G was about 12 years, 3G to 4G was about ten years and 4G to 5G I estimate will be about eight years, a maximum nine before it is introduced to market.
What matters now is that UK organisations are long-sighted enough to seize the opportunity and get involved. The major investment funds mean we have a window in which to set the pace for what may well be the most significant phase in the history of mobile communications, the make or break. We have a long history in the UK of quality research that doesn’t lead to commercialisation by home firms but picked up overseas. And with every economy now looking for the next big thing, the new technologies and markets that will shore up deficits and be an engine of long-term growth, 5G has the potential to be a precious commodity of the coming years.