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Government awards academics £16m for 5G trial network

Experts from three major technology research institutions have been awarded a government grant to develop a 5G test network

Academics at King’s College London (KCL) and the Universities of Bristol and Surrey have been jointly awarded a £16m grant to develop and build a world-class 5G test network in the UK through the government’s new 5G Testbeds and Trials programme.

The money will be drawn from a pot of £740m earmarked for digital infrastructure in the £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), and it is hoped the three universities will be able to deliver an end-to-end 5G trial very soon.

The project will combine the various strengths of each institution around networking technology, and will be led by Rahim Tafazolli, director of the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre, alongside Dimitra Simeonidou from the University of Bristol, who specialises in high-performance networking, and wireless technology expert Mischa Dohler from KCL.

“This investment will ensure that the UK continues to be world-class in 5G innovation and development through to commercial exploitation,” said Tafazolli.

“This exciting programme builds on significant investment and a strong foundation of 5G research and development across the three institutions. The programme will maintain and extend the UK’s leadership position in the race to transform many aspects of everyday life and business through digital transformation.”

The government said the project was the “first step” in a plan to make the UK a global leader in a sector that could potentially add more than £170bn to the economy, particularly in emerging areas of technology that will rely on ultrafast, agile networking, such as autonomous vehicles, advanced manufacturing and robotics, and smart homes and cities.

“We want to be at the head of the field in 5G,” said digital minister Matt Hancock. “This funding will support the pioneering research needed to ensure we can harness the potential of this technology to spark innovation, create new jobs and boost the economy.

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“We know 5G has the potential to bring more reliable, ultrafast mobile connectivity, with quicker reaction times and larger data capabilities, and I am thrilled to announce King’s College London and the Universities of Surrey and Bristol have agreed to collaborate on this project.”

Bristol, KCL and Surrey will work together to build three small-scale mobile networks which, taken together, will form the core of the test network. Each of the individual networks will have a number of the elements expected to be present in a future commercial 5G network to support trials of its potential uses.

The aim is to deliver an end-to-end trial of a 5G network early in 2018 to test the technology’s capability to make an application or service work in the real world. This could be as simple as sending a signal from a smartphone to a datacentre and back again, or something more complex.

Other academic institutions, industry and local authorities can bid to join the Testbeds and Trials programme from 2018 onwards. Further details of the opportunities and the available funding will be published later this year.

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