By Chris Lee
4G mobile offers existing 3G mobile users the promise of a faster, richer mobile Internet experience. In the UK, operator EE (Everything Everywhere) – a collaboration of Orange and T-Mobile – expects to expand its 4G coverage to 35 UK cities by the end of March 2013. Rival operators O2 and Vodafone are already playing catch up.
Yet the industry should be thinking ahead to the dawn of 5G, according to Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Director of the Centre for Communication Systems Research (CCSR) at the University of Surrey. For Tafazolli, it is not speed of data transfer that will make 5G special.
“From our perspective 4G is already looking old hat. You have to remember that researchers started looking at 4G more than 10 years ago, that’s the length of the cycle,” he told NMK.
Tafazolli believes that 4G has been an important step forward in delivering the kinds of higher data rates, multimedia functionality and m-commerce we are starting to just expect from our mobile devices.
“But the problem with 4G is that the area is extremely dynamic,” he added. “Both the sheer growth in demand for internet-enabled devices and changes in how we use the Internet, from desktops to laptops and then to anywhere and everywhere on the move, is putting constant pressure on the technology and on research.”
Why 5G matters
Mobile communications 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, Tafazolli warns.
“The growth in the number of new applications running on the networks is accelerating, as ever more mobile devices become the preferred route for Internet access,” he said. “We’re facing a serious, worldwide ‘spectrum crunch’ and new advanced technologies are needed to maximise the use of the limited available radio spectrum and provide for ‘greener’ technologies and solutions.”
Tafazolli expects 5G to be in place by 2020.
“Between now and then will see a great deal of testing, as well as negotiation at government level worldwide on availability within the spectrum,” he said. “The most important feature of 5G will be delivering a service where users don’t necessarily see much difference compared with 4G – that’s the key: creating a global network which is sustainable for the long-term and avoiding the potential for crunch and limited access for services.”
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 Huawei, Samsung, Telefonica Europe, Fujitsu Laboratories Europe, Rohde & Schwarz and AIRCOM International.
“It’s important for mobile comms in the UK in general,” Tafazolli continued. “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. What matters now is that UK organisations are long-sighted enough to seize the opportunity and get involved.”