Dr Shahram G Niri, is general manager of the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey. We find out more what this institute is about, what he believes the main challenges will be in reaching a 5G standard. Dr Niri is speaking on Day One of the inaugural 5G World Summit is taking place on the 23rd-26th June 2014, at the Amsterdam RAI, Netherlands.
Please tell me more about the 5G Innovation Centre? What are its aims and how it came to be based at the University of Surrey?
The 5GIC (5G Innovation Center) programme is the result of a successful funding bid made by the University of Surrey in 2012 to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE), under the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) for the creation of a sustainable and specialised 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC). The 5GIC is the world’s first dedicated 5G programme and an international hub for telecommunication research and innovation with a unique large scale 5G test-bed for network testing. The centre collaborates with key telecom service providers, network and device manufacturers and test equipment solution providers to create a facility that develops solutions and standards for 5G networks worldwide and generates significant downstream benefits for parties involved, the wider economy, and the community.
There is still much debate about what 5G actually will be. Do you think it will turn out to be a complete overhaul of both the RAN and core network, or just one or the other?
Around half of over three billion devices connected to internet today are via wireless networks. The number of connections and also the volume of data carried over these wireless networks are continuously growing at a significant rate. This introduces an ever-increasing pressure on air interface capacity. Moving forward, driving more data through the scarce, finite and expensive radio spectrum therefore becomes a real challenge and makes radio spectral efficiency an immense challenge. I therefore believe a new RAN has become the main agenda for 5G. Having said that, 5G not only needs to deliver a significant increase in capacity, but also a significant improvement in latency and speed, energy consumption, ease of operation and of course total cost of ownership. I also believe that future communication systems will mainly be delivered through software on generic hardware. All these make the core network also subject to innovation and change.
What will 5G really deliver to consumers, and are 5G and the Internet of Things inextricably linked?
Today users are adopting new habits in terms of how they use mobile phones and how they access the Internet. More powerful and Internet enabled devices are becoming available and affordable. Services are also growing in multiplicity, diversity and richness of content. End-user delight is absolutely essential to the success of the telecom industry. Users are becoming more demanding regarding quality and price. Mobile Internet offering ubiquity, personalisation and adaptation, and in particular video addiction, is now at the core of existing services and applications and no doubt surprising applications are yet to come. None of these are specific to 5G. Nevertheless 5G technologies will undoubtedly play a major role in providing a ubiquitous, high-quality, reliable and affordable broadband internet access as an integral part of modern life and a true digital economy.
With regard to the Internet of Things, the hyper-connectivity of billions of devices, Person-to-Person (P2P), Person to Device (P2D), Device to Device, (D2D) and Machine-to-Machine (M2M) makes the Internet-of-Things an ever growing phenomenon. Increasingly the internet is being formed as a network of ‘things’, rather than a network of computers. The networks therefore are expected to carry more and more data content. This pressure requires rethinking of the mobile network connectivity and capacity and, to some extent the quality of service. While none of these are 5G technology specific, 5G will play a key role in delivering this expected connectivity and capacity. More importantly 5G will be essential to realising certain MTC (machines and sensors communications) with more stringent requirements on reliability, latency and speed of the connection.
What are the main challenges and limitations that need to be address before we can arrive at 5G?
From 2G to 4G, more or less every new generation of wireless communication promised improvements in network capacity, data rate, efficiency, cost and quality and 5G will be no exception. However, the sheer scale of the challenges this time makes 5G challenges different. 5G needs to embrace a significant stepping stone and leap forward in terms of targets. It also calls for a potential paradigm shift, not only in relation to the underlying technology, but also in the business models, policies and economics around the 5G system and more importantly radio spectrum regulation.
While Europe led on GSM, Japan led on 3G and the US and South of 4G, EU Digital Commissioner, Neelie Kroes has called for Europe to reclaim the lead on 5G. Do you believe it can it do so and what would be the benefits if it did?
Although Europe played an active role in the creation of 3G and 4G, it fell behind in leading the standards and rolling out the technologies. 5G will offer a unique opportunity for Europe to regain a leading position in the development of mobile technologies. However, a collective and harmonised global activity throughout Europe, US and Asia will be a must for the success of the 5G technology.
Of course Europe will benefit from this. Broadband internet access has already become the backbone of our fast moving digital, communications and knowledge economy and an integral part of many industries. 5G as a key enabler of a true broadband internet access could facilitate significant innovation opportunities in delivering better services in transport, utility, health, commerce and education. It could enable social and monetary value and significant downstream benefit for economic growth in Europe. In the case of the UK, analysts claim that every £1 invested in broadband, internet access has the longer term potential to generate up to £100 in the digital economy.