Ordnance Survey (OS) has been chosen by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to develop a groundbreaking planning and mapping tool that will be instrumental for the national rollout of 5G technology – the next generation of wireless communications needed to bring Internet-connected devices into everyday life.
OS will lead a consortium that includes the 5G Innovation Centre and the Met Office, and together they will be building a ‘digital twin’ of the real world, which will be used to determine the prime locations to place the radio antennae (access points) necessary to enable a 5G network. The planning and mapping tool will be trialled first in Bournemouth, and if successful the tool has the potential to be scaled up to cover the rest of the UK, and shared with other countries as they develop their own 5G networks.
Surveying for parts of Bournemouth, which is a test bed for the national rollout of 5G, is already underway and will be used to generate the new model. The intelligent mapping tool trial will support the town’s aim to build on its success as Digital Council of the Year 2015 by becoming one of the first places in Britain to have 5G coverage.
Minister of State for Digital and Culture, Matt Hancock says: ““Our ambition is to be a world leader in 5G technology, which is why we are investing in research and demonstration initiatives like this groundbreaking 5G mapping pilot. It is projects such as this which will make sure the UK can harness the potential of this exciting technology and help build the hyper-connected Britain we all want to see.”
OS Commercial Director, Andrew Loveless, says: “The purpose is to deploy 5G quickly and efficiently. Linking OS data to spectrum information and meteorological data will deliver faster speeds and better coverage to connected devices, all the while helping keep rollout costs to a minimum. In creating a highly accurate digital model of the real world, with added in attributes and intelligence, OS is taking mapping and data visualisation to unprecedented new levels with what can be achieved, complementing the government’s Digital Britain strategy. It is a Smart map for a Smart future. We are delighted to be assisting Bournemouth, 2015’s fastest growing digital economy and one of this year’s Top 3 clusters for employment growth, in getting the town 5G ready.”
Networked sensors and beacons will depend on seamless access to the 5G network. The higher frequencies offered by 5G deliver significant increases in bandwidth that these devices will demand. Higher frequencies have a shorter range, and so a huge amount of equipment is needed to support the network and make it robust. Industry sources have suggested thousands of sites will be needed with higher frequencies to assure widespread national 5G coverage.
Higher frequencies also mean much larger amounts of data can be sent and received than at current mobile frequencies. This ability to transfer large amounts of data is important for meeting the increasing demand for bandwidth brought about by the growth of the Internet, and it is vital to the future success of new tech concepts, including Smart Cities, the Internet of Things (IoT) and driverless vehicles.
One issue with the rollout of a 5G network is that details such as different construction materials can markedly reduce the capability for radio signals to travel, and at very high frequencies even raindrops and the leaves of a tree can interfere with the radio signals. To make 5G a success, access points and network equipment must be deployed where the impact of the built and natural environment has minimal effect.
Discovering where to best place the large amount of equipment required for a national 5G network would be a very time consuming and costly exercise of trial and error, but with the data visualisation tool OS will create, the vast majority of the work could be done from a desk. Network planners can open the accurate digital environment and simply place an access point, allowing them to immediately see what inhibits the technology from being able to communicate. This enables the planners to construct a virtual network in minutes. Included in the model’s intelligence are weather conditions, tree foliage and the lifecycles of vegetation, and details of future building projects, all of which gives planners the opportunity to test broadcast range and reliability throughout the seasons and over the coming years.
Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Director of the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre, said, “The consortium has world class and highly complementary expertise. We are looking forward to this collaboration immensely in developing a state-of–the-art planning tool that enable fast and cost-effective deployment of 5G network by industry.”
Dr Dave Jones, Head of Observations R&D at the Met Office, said: “Weather elements such as rain have the potential to degrade the performance of communications networks at these new higher frequency bands. With our expertise in both numerical weather prediction and the remote sensing of the atmosphere (e.g. weather satellites and radar), the Met Office is well-placed to contribute realistic high-resolution weather scenarios and the associated impacts on signal transmission to our project partners. We are delighted to be working with OS and 5GIC, because of our complementary expertise in this area.”