BT and Nokia have signed an agreement to jointly develop next-generation 5G mobile networks, collaborating on potential customer use cases, proof of concept (PoC) trials, and the development of the standards and equipment that will be needed to support 5G beyond 2020.
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5G is expected to deliver seamless connectivity to mobile users, with much lower latency and download speeds significantly faster than those currently seen on 4G networks, potentially peaking at multiple gigabits per second.
This is expected to herald an explosion in usage of emerging, data heavy applications, such as virtual and augmented reality or live 360 degree video, and services that will rely on real-time engagement between users and systems, such as autonomous vehicles.
However, BT and Nokia said they believed that the biggest potential of 5G was around the improvement in flexibility and usability of mobile networks, allowing them to change their characteristics on the fly to support specific customers.
This could, for example, see the network wind itself up to reduce latency in support of critical internet of things (IoT) applications, or to offer brief bursts of higher speed if a consumer is downloading a movie.
“5G is the communications technology of the future, and it will transform how we communicate with each other, as well as communicate with devices and things,” said Cormac Whelan, Nokia UK and Ireland head.
BT’s Howard Watson, CEO of technology, service and operations, said the telco planned to use its newly acquired EE business to build a foundation to support 5G.
“It’s still early days for 5G technology, but experience tells us that a collaborative approach is key to success. We’re delighted to be working with Nokia to drive a common approach to 5G, and to develop exciting use cases which bring together our combined experience in fixed and mobile technologies,” he said.
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The trials will initially focus on technology enablers for 5G mobile networks, such as millimetre-wave radio and convergence. A 5G-ready radio system is currently being tested at BT’s Adastral Park research and development hub by Nokia.
This system is demonstrating key technology ingredients currently in standardisation running on Nokia’s AirScale radio access, and includes a 5G frame structure and four times 100MHz carrier aggregation.
The agreement builds on a pre-existing relationship between BT and Nokia, which supplied BT’s 21CN core routing platform, and the BT – EE subscriber register infrastructure, as well as part of EE’s radio access network.
Separately, O2 CTO Brendan O’Reilly has called for a renewed focus on cross-industry and government collaboration to get the UK’s mobile infrastructure ready for 5G networks, which are widely predicted to become commercially available around the end of the decade.
Speaking to Computer Weekly, O’Reilly said with mobile masts taking an average of three years to plan and deploy, the race was now on to ensure that enough infrastructure could be put in place to manage 5G and support the UK’s digital economy.