For the first time this year, 5G World will be taking place as part of TechXLR8, the headline expo of London Tech Week. Gary Eastwood explores what the coming next-generation mobile technology will mean for London.
A recent report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BofAML) ranks London as the second smartest city in the world behind Singapore, and ahead of New York, Paris and Tokyo. However, the same report notes that with 55 per cent of the world’s population now living in urban areas, over three-quarters of cities around the world are already showing signs of fragility, such as inadequate infrastructure, rising inequality, housing, and environmental challenges.
In order to address these issues, the world’s cities are turning to smart technology, which is already transforming the way our urban environment functions. That’s why BofAML predicts that the market for smart city technologies – such as 5G networks, smart buildings, self-driving vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT) – is already worth $1 trillion, and predicted to grow to $1.6 trillion by 2020.
Developing smart city applications and connecting entire cities via a range of mobile connectivity technologies enables the dynamic and smart management and monitoring of entire city infrastructures and environments, including waste, traffic, education, energy, building management, security, and many other as yet unforeseen applications.
As a result, there are predicted to be 10 billion devices connected to the IoT by 2020, many of which will be sensors in everything from traffic lights to dustbins to vehicles and mobile devices. Of course, this requires a connectivity infrastructure, mobile and fixed, that can handle an estimated 200 million GB of data per day for every 1 million citizens in the world’s cities.
One of those solutions will be 5G. This next-generation technology promises high-speed (x100 times faster than 4G), low-latency services, and a network that will allow millions of sensors – in everything from vehicles to street furniture to buildings and even dustbins – to communicate with the cloud and with each other and enable the rollout of the IoT.
5G is set to enable smart traffic management, smart buildings, improved surveillance and security, virtual healthcare, smart environment management, self-driving vehicles and many other applications that will not only make our cities more pleasing places to live, but also cut costs, energy usage and pollution, while boosting efficiency and productivity.
Smart transportation systems, for example, will require sensors that collect huge volumes of data about road conditions and feed that back to the cloud, and other vehicles, as well as communicating with street furniture such as traffic lights in order to optimise traffic flow through the city.
At the same time, that data will be used to update and upgrade vehicles with real-time, dynamic maps that contain information about road conditions, and be able to redirect vehicles, smoothing traffic flow and easing congestion.
5G could also take that to the next level, whereby vehicles drive themselves.
Such super-fast connectivity will allow vehicles to communicating with each other and sensors in the environment in real time, enabling collision-free traffic flow, smart parking, and platooning – the electronic ‘coupling’ together of multiple vehicles within very close proximity to reduce fuel usage and congestion.
Although that may seem a long way off, London is already at the forefront of 5G research. The city’s population is expected to grow by 1 million people to 10 million in the next 10 years, so it’s embracing 5G technology to address some of these challenges.
For example, back in 2014, London Mayor Boris Johnson promised a 5G network by 2020 in order to keep the city at the forefront of smart city technology and applications. The UK Government pledged £5 million in funding over the next 5 years to research the technology, working alongside global companies such as Samsung, Huawei and Fujitsu.
That promise is already underway. Last month O2 announced that it would lay the foundation for 5G adoption in London by installing a series of coverage-boosting ‘small cells’ around the capital.
The mobile operator, in collaboration with Cisco, is set to spend £80 million installing 1,400 small cells across Greater London by the end of 2017. Not only will these small cells enhance the mobile signal for businesses and consumers in the capital, crucially it will also pave the way for the rapid deployment of 5G connectivity.
Likewise, in February, Arqiva, Samsung and Nokia announced that they would hold the UK’s first 5G trial in the capital within the next year. The trial will take place in the centre of London, with Samsung noting that the city is a “prime candidate to show off the potential benefits of 5G”.
Partnership between public and private organisations will also be essential for the development of London’s 5G network. A strong statement of that came with the 2015 opening of the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey, which won £12 million of state funding and over £68 million from private partners such as EE, Huawei, O2, Vodafone, BBC, Ofcom, Fujitsu, Samsung, and many others.
It is the largest European research centre dedicated to the development of 5G, and boasts a testbed facility that will be able to deliver speeds of 10Gbps by 2018, and will develop an IoT simulator. It’s considered to be a global innovation hub for telecoms and connectivity research.
5GIC is already providing the technological foundation for a project known as ‘Digital Greenwich’, a 5G smart city incubator to encourage startups to develop new technology for smart transport, mobility, logistics, energy, healthcare and education applications.
5G standards are, of course still being finalised, with commercial rollout not expected for 3–5 years. But an example of the types of applications it will enable in London are already being trialled on existing networks. For example, a project to create intelligent traffic light technology that identifies bicycles and buses and gives them priority over cars and lorries is soon to be tested in Milton Keynes, and expected to be rolled out in London soon after. Discussions with Transport for London have already taken place.
The Ordnance Survey (OS) organisation, meanwhile, is developing a planning tool for the rollout of 5G mobile networks in London, and leading a project to determine how connected self-driving vehicles can operate on British roads.
5G is expected to offer further benefits to London. Already, London’s technology market is the largest in Europe and worth £19 billion. But a report from London’s City Hall and Arup estimated that London’s slice of the global smart cities market will be worth US$13.4bn (£8.9bn) by 2020, or roughly 1% of the worldwide market. The development of 5G is expected to create even further investment and jobs and grow GDP in the capital.
While some scepticism surrounds the need for 5G, most industry watchers are convinced that it will unlock the potential of smart cities, and help cities such as London to reap great social, economic and environmental benefits.
To learn more about how 5G will impact you and your industry, register now for a free visitor pass to 5G World 2017, 13th-15th June, ExCeL, London.