5G arrives in London and could be used to power ultrafast broadband services from next year
A trial of 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) technology is underway in London, with partners Samsung and Arqiva hoping to demonstrate how it could be a cheaper, more rapid way of spreading ultrafast broadband than fibre to the premise (FTTP).
FWA has long been touted as a way of extending superfast broadband coverage to rural areas, but this 5G system is designed for high capacity demand in urban areas where it can be difficult to deploy full fibre.
Arqiva has long been a critic of the UK’s communications infrastructure, the regulatory environment and difficult planning laws.
CEO Simon Beresford-Wylie said mobile and fixed speeds were “depressing” compared to other countries, including Samsung’s homeland of South Korea where he also used to work, and that the fact FTTP coverage in the UK was just three percent was “shocking”.
“If you look at the world we live in … it’s a very competitive world and if the UK wants to have a truly competitive and vibrant economy … it needs to improve [connectivity],” he said. “It’s an important business opportunity for Arqiva. And given the state of fibre here, there is a real market hunger for an alternative to poor fixed broadband.”
However Beresford-Wyle did say that there were signs government now understood the need for better connectivity and that planning laws, particularly with regards to small cells, were improving. Indeed, the government has been pushing 5G and ‘full fibre’ messages in recent times.
It’s also worth pointing out that BT and Virgin Media are planning FTTP rollouts, while a number of ‘alternative’ network providers such as CityFibre, Gigaclear and Hyperoptic are also investing.
To deliver a ‘fibre like’ experience over wireless requires lots of high capacity spectrum, which is why millimetre wave (mmWave) bandwidth is seen as ideal. Arqiva holds licences for significant amounts of 28GHz mmWave airwaves in the capital (and nationwide) and is using them in this trial, with Samsung providing the equipment and core network capabilities.
A signal is sent from antennas located on Newman Street to Arqiva’s Fitzrovia offices, which are 230 metres away, to deliver speeds of more than 1Gbps.
The trial will last for six months to see how the system performs in the real world and how it reacts to changing weather and other factors. The intention is then to offer a wholesale service to operators next year, by which point the first version of 5G will have been standardised.
However Arqiva could press ahead with a proprietary system, noting that unlike mobile phones, the need for standardisation is less obvious. For the company, the key is bringing the cost of transmission down is the most important aspect.
For Samsung, the trial is a way to potentially expand the spread of its networking equipment and is a useful exercise to see how the consumer electronics and appliances, such as televisions and fridges, can be connected.
“We’re not the worldwide number one in infrastructure but we’re making progress,” said Woojune Kim, Samsung’s Next Generation Communications Team, noting its work with Three in the UK and with other networks in Japan and India.
He said that while 2G was about bringing voice to your pocket and 3G and 4G about Internet, 5G was about bringing “fibre to your pocket”.
However for now, the focus is very much on businesses and industry due to the belief that there is a limit to how much bandwidth someone can consume on a smartphone because of the form factor. It is unlikely one smartphone connection will host multiple 4K video streams for example.
Small businesses who need FTTP connectivity are a target, as are smart city applications and public transit.
Samsung is also working with Nokia to ensure their respective 5G technologies are interoperable. The two companies have been in talks since last year and have worked on the early stages of compatibility testing.
The first commercial 5G networks are expected to arrive in 2020, offering speeds of at least 1Gbps, low latency and high capacity.