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November 16, 2012

The UK’s 5G future: expert reaction

CBR rounds up expert opinions on Ofcom's plans for 5G in the UK.

By Tineka Smith

Ofcom has announced that they already preparing for a 5G future in the UK.

The UK communications authority predicts that by 2030, mobile data demand could be 80 times higher than it is today and is working to avoid a possible ‘capacity crunch.’

CBR takes a look at what experts have to say about Ofcom’s plans to tackle the growing consumption of mobile broadband.

Bruce Girdlestone, Senior Business Development Manager, Virgin Media Business told CBR:

"The latest figures from Ofcom once again emphasize the fact that more people than ever before are consuming huge amounts of data on the move. While it’s encouraging to see that Ofcom is being proactive by planning to make more spectrum available, extra airwaves alone won’t solve the problem of bulging mobile networks.

What’s needed is a blend of technology that seamlessly connects together to enable a better mobile future. For example, you can have all the airwaves you like, but if cell sites don’t have capacity in the backhaul network then those airwaves will not be fully utilized.

Mobile network operators will almost certainly welcome the news of more available spectrum, but they’ll also be looking to make sure they have maximum bandwidth between their cell sites by taking advantage of fibre networks.

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While some people will be looking ahead to 4G and even 5G, many mobile users are yet to even experience 3G as they really should. New technology like small cells gives mobile users a huge boost to their data speeds and enables them to get the mobile performance they’ve always craved.

What’s more, this new small cell technology, which we successfully trialed earlier this year, will also support a 4G future. So it’s critical that as Britain looks to improve its mobile infrastructure, mobile operators, telcos and the government work together to make sure that a choice of technology is available and put to good use."

Sean Larner, VP, International, Xirrus:

"Ofcom’s plans to release more radio spectrum and make better use of what’s currently available is at best an interim future solution to the serious problem of data overload on mobile networks. As mobile telcos have begun to accept since Ericsson bought wireless networking company BellAir Networks at the start of the year, offloading data onto Wi-Fi networks is the most effective solution to this problem – and it’s available today.

The wireless spectrum is unlicensed, effectively free to use, and can run across multiple channels in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency ranges. Capacity abounds, with 16,000 hotspots – many of them underused – already available around the country, and more being built every day. That’s not to mention the huge growth and upgrading of wireless networks within businesses, which many employees and external visitors use every day.

With 3G, downloading is slow, takes a lot of bandwidth, and if you’re abroad it can cost the earth. And although the fast speeds and capacity of 4G will help the situation for a while, once it becomes mainstream the data problem will return with a vengeance.

The key thing is that people are using more mobile devices more often, and using them for data-heavy tasks such as streaming video, but mobile networks weren’t built to handle this and are now starting to creak. Offloading a large chunk of mobile data traffic onto wireless networks is the right solution to this problem. Investment in new, high-performance Wi-Fi infrastructure, and related initiatives such as the Wi-Fi PassPoint certification, which will enable seamless switching between Wi-Fi networks, should therefore be a top priority for mobile telcos, government and other stakeholders."

Patrick Irwin, Virtualisation expert for Citrix UK, Ireland & South Africa told CBR:

"Data use is only going in one direction – up. Over the last year, a staggering 20 million Gigabytes of data were consumed over the UK’s mobile networks and this figure is set to grow and grow. By 2020, the number of connected devices such as smartphones and tablets is estimated to number 50 billion globally, as people turn to technology to improve both their working and home lives.
This rapid pace of change will continue to evolve working practices, business models and consumer behaviour. For example, offering better quality of service in difficult to reach indoor and outdoor locations, 5G will be a powerful driver for flexible working in rural locations outside of Britain’s towns and cities, where network coverage is traditionally weaker. 5G will offer businesses an opportunity to empower their workforce like never before."

Mervyn Kelly, EMEA Marketing Director, Ciena told CBR:

"The analysis announced by Ofcom today doesn’t come as a big surprise to us. Especially in terms of mobile data consumption trends, the proliferation of new mobile platforms like smartphones and tablets , and the pick-up of services like mobile video, mark a continuation of a tendency that has been observed for a few years now. That said, Ofcom’s forecasts as to the rise of mobile broadband certainly create some concern as to the evolution of the infrastructure supporting the increased data rates.

A focus on the potential bottleneck in mobile spectrum is to be expected, however, another area that will most definitely be affected by the explosion of mobile data services over the next few years is the backhaul portion of the network – linking the mobile access towers to the network core. As adoption of mobile data services grows, this part of the network is likely to pose a very tangible risk of becoming clogged up and negatively affecting user experience.
The way to address this risk is twofold. The first element is somewhat obvious – enough capacity is needed on the backhaul links to accommodate the growth of new bandwidth-hungry services, and this must be highly reliable to deliver the new suite of personal and business mobile services.

Secondly, that capacity needs to become more flexible and intelligent than it typically is on today’s networks, so that operators are able to quickly react to the constantly changing demand of the mobile market. This means that operators’ technology choices in the 4G deployment over the next year or so needs to explicitly include the underlying infrastructure and focus on solutions that are scalable, capable of fast roll-out and easy maintenance – while coming at a cost point that will allow service providers to profitably deliver mobile data services to their customers."


Please follow this writer on Twitter @Tineka_S or comment below.

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