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Supporting a true digital economy requires intense focus on 5G
DR SHAHRAM NIRI, GENERAL MANAGER, 5G INNOVATION CENTRE, UNIVERSITY OF SURREY
The importance of the government’s strategy for the UK’s digital economy made headlines this weekend as
David Cameron opened CeBIT with a speech that underlined the importance of next generation networks and
a realisation of the ‘Internet of Things’ as integral to UK competiveness.
In 1908 engineer Nikola Tesla spoke of “an inexpensive instrument, not bigger than a
watch, [which] will enable its bearer to hear anywhere, on sea or land, music or song, the
speech of political leader, the address of an eminent man of science, or the sermon of an
eloquent clergyman, delivered in some other places, however, distant”. This is a
prevailing picture of wireless technology and its role in today’s communications.
Some 80 years later, Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, which has now
become the backbone of our fast moving digital, communications and knowledge
economy and an integral part of many industries. We see the internet as a global
community and an undeniable human right. Ubiquitous, high-quality and affordable broadband internet access
is becoming essential to the functioning of modern life, and as such, internet access is fast becoming the
fourth utility in our homes after water, electricity and gas.
Today there are over three billion devices
connected to internet, of which around half are via
wireless networks. Wireless access to internet is
becoming a dominant part of the media and
communication networks. This introduces a
serious and ever-increasing pressure on wireless
network capacity where the scarce and finite radio
spectrum is the blood line of the network. Divining
more data through the available radio spectrum
therefore becomes a real challenge and makes the
radio spectral efficiency one of the most important
challenges to ensure our future digital economy
can grow and realise the potential set for it by
Broadband the 4th utility
The demand for capacity is also fuelled by the need for hyper-connectivity of billions of devices (P2P, P2D,
D2D), machines and sensors (MTC; Machine Type Communication) which will make the Internet-of-Things,
highlighted by the Prime Minister in his opening speech at CeBIT this weekend, a reality.
Increasingly the internet will be formed as a network of ‘things’, rather than a network of computers.
Availability of more powerful, smarter and enabled devices and the use of smart sensor technologies will
create a vast amount of content and data. This will only grow with the increasing thirst for yet unimagined
services and applications, which will drive even more content.
The internet will therefore be expected to carry exabytes, zettabytes or more data content. This pressure will
require rethinking of the internet’s architecture, becoming content-centric rather than a connection-centric
network. This content-centric network is the driving force behind our growing knowledge economy, and it is
enabling businesses to work smarter than ever before.
Nikola Tesla, source - Wikipedia
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This massive expansion presents yet more challenges, not least how to leverage the vast quantities of data
being generated (often referred to simply as ‘Big Data’). It nevertheless facilitates significant innovation
opportunities for better use of network resources and cost saving in the future wireless networks. Big Data
technology also creates an invaluable asset and potential in improving service delivery in several industry
sectors. One example is the vision of future smart cities; with vital services such as transport, weather, health
and education all connected and sharing valuable data over a wireless network designed to help us live
Next generation wireless networks not only need to deliver a
significant increase in capacity, but also an immense
improvement in intelligence, flexibility, automation, resilience,
efficiency, speed, security, privacy and latency. Yet, this also
needs to be at a lower delivery cost and with a renewed focus
on sustainability and environmental considerations. The growth
in wireless working and the content economy will inevitably
lead to more power and energy consumption and the networks
will therefore need to become greener in order to enable
sustainable energy efficiency.
Every new generation of wireless communication of course promises most, if not all of the above, and 5G will
be no exception. However, the sheer scale of the challenges this time makes 5G related researches far
reaching and inevitably more challenging. This may call for a potential paradigm shift, not only in relation to
the underlying technology, but also in the business models, radio spectrum regulation and policies and
economics around the 5G system.
This is why the Prime Minister’s speech at CeBIT this weekend
marked a shift in perceptions of future networks. It was a very public
acknowledgement of the importance of academic leadership and
cross-border collaboration in driving the digital economy. The
research being undertaken at the University of Surrey’s 5G
Innovation Centre (5GIC), will work to address this challenge and the
support the centre has gained from government and industry
partners is proof of the importance of a European-led 5G initiative
that will deliver global standards and drive global developments.
David Cameron at CeBit, source – mailonline.com
That said, today on the 25
anniversary of the internet, two-thirds of the world’s population cannot yet go
online. Either there are no fixed or wireless networks in place, or not enough network capacity to connect and
support data. For many countries, the underlying infrastructure and availability of the necessary power
sources are too limited to support basic connectivity, let alone the promise of next-generation networks.
Alongside a lack of network capability and capacity, devices are too expensive for the majority of this
population. We need to remove these barriers through collective effort, investment and building of the
essential infrastructure that will enable the global population to benefit from the value of the internet. While
5G is recognised to be at the forefront of the UK’s future digital economy, there are still those who still cannot
benefit from the prosperity even the most basic of networks can offer.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official
position of the University of Surrey and the 5GIC.