The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has commissioned Ordnance Survey (OS) to develop and mapping tools to build a “digital twin” of the real world that can be used to determine optimum locations for the mobile network masts and other infrastructure that will be needed to successfully roll out 5G services in the next five to 10 years.
The mapping organisation, which dates back to the 18th century, will head up a consortium that includes the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) and the Met Office to develop the tools, which will be trialled in Bournemouth before being scaled up to cover the rest of the UK if successful.
The consortium has already begun surveying parts of Bournemouth, and the data gathered there will be used to generate the new model. The town council said the trials would support its own aims to build on its success as 2015 Digital Council of the Year by becoming one of the places in the UK to have commercial 5G coverage when the time comes.
“The purpose is to deploy 5G quickly and efficiently,” said Andrew Loveless, Ordnance Survey commercial director. “Linking OS data to spectrum information and meteorological data will deliver faster speeds and better coverage to connected devices, all the while helping keep roll-out 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 levels with what can be achieved, complementing the government’s Digital Britain strategy,” he explained.
Mapping out the 5G network
Proper and surveying for 5G will be critical if the technology is to be deployed successfully, because the higher frequencies that 5G will use to deliver gigabit bandwidth and transmit huge amounts of data have a much shorter range, and therefore more sites will be needed to make the networks work properly, possibly thousands more than current 4G networks use.
Many experts already believe 5G networks will ultimately rely on a mix of technologies, including traditional mobile masts and small cells, to deliver on the promises that have been made.
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Higher frequencies are also more vulnerable to the effects of buildings – different construction materials can markedly reduce the capability for radio signals to travel – and even raindrops and foliage can have an impact. Access points and network equipment must therefore be deployed in optimal built and natural environments.
OS hopes its data visualisation tool will enable network owners to do the majority of their work from a desk and make the whole exercise much cheaper and less time-consuming. In the future, it said, network planners will be able to open up an accurate digital environment and construct a virtual network within minutes, allowing them to get immediate feedback on any factors that might interfere with the network, including weather conditions, tree foliage and lifecycles, and even details of planned building projects.
“Weather elements such as rain have the potential to degrade the performance of communications networks at these higher frequency bands. With our expertise in both numerical weather prediction and the remote sensing of the atmosphere – for example, weather satellites and radar – the Met Office is well-placed to contribute realistic high- weather scenarios and the associated impacts on signal transmission to our project partners,” said Dave Jones, head of observations research and development at the Met Office.
Digital and culture secretary Matt Hancock added: “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.”