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Remote rural areas in Cornwall and Cumbria will be among the first locations in the UK to get access to Vodafone’s 5G mobile network when the operator starts to roll out a 5G-ready network in the middle of 2019.
Up to now, the mobile industry has largely focused on targeting 5G at urban areas where higher user volumes will be able to benefit immediately from the capacity and speed boosts promised by 5G, enabling quick return on investment (ROI) for operators.
However, speaking at Vodafone’s Future Ready event at its Newbury headquarters, CTO Scott Petty said that besides major urban areas, the mobile network operator (MNO) would also roll out 5G early on in rural areas where it sees data growth and potential for digital innovation.
“We feel there are opportunities to validate some opportunities around 5G enabling fixed wireless access (FWA) for households, and 5G for agriculture,” Petty told Computer Weekly. “We can see traffic growth and demand in those areas.”
Vodafone UK chief executive Nick Jeffery added: “We believe there is a great deal of economic value and digital potential to fulfil outside of urban areas, and we’re now putting our money where our mouth is and bringing those areas up to speed with the latest technology.”
Vodafone has already announced the first seven cities where it will deploy 5G trial networks later in 2018 – Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester – but so far it is the only MNO to commit to offering early-stage 5G services in rural areas. The firm said today it was targeting 1,000 active 5G cell sites by the end of 2019.
Petty said he expected to see the first 5G-ready smartphones announced at Mobile World Congress 2019 in Barcelona, but pointed out there were still a number of design issues to overcome, so brand name devices would probably appear towards the end of 2019.
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With virtual reality (VR) emerging as one potential early use-case for 5G, Vodafone demonstrated the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G technology, linking to its Manchester office, from where England and Manchester City women’s football captain Steph Houghton appeared on stage as a 3D hologram to take part in a live football skills demonstration with a young fan in Newbury.
Houghton told the audience the technology could help the sports industry connect better with fans and build closer relationships with them, not just in the UK, but worldwide.
As Vodafone, like its peers, prepares for 5G, the company has been enhancing the backbone of its existing network in anticipation, introducing its Redstream converged fixed and mobile IP network, which Petty said offers 80 100Gbps wavelengths that will help Vodafone cope with the explosion of data consumption it expects to see when 5G is launched in anger.
As well as consumer content, Redstream also enables enterprise users to run converged data, mobile and internet of things (IoT) services, all backed by software-defined networking (SDN) technology. Vodafone has already deployed 4,000 access nodes and 1,800 points-of-presence (PoPs), and by the end of 2018 will have migrated more than 2,000 customers and 18,000 circuits, enabling it to start retiring some elements of its legacy network.
“As we tidy up that old technology, it has a massive impact on our energy footprint, a massive impact on our agility and speed, and lets us offer more cost-effective services to our users,” said Petty.