While EE is already in the midst of an ongoing 4G rollout across the UK, including airport hubs, road routes and railway lines, it is also already busy preparing for 5G.
5G is not going to appear on your phone's screen any time in the near future, with services unlikely to be live until 2020. Even so, it is worth getting excited about, as in theory 5G technology could deliver speeds of 1Gbps.
The European Commission (EC) has already urged industry to make sure it prepares for 5G as soon as possible, calling for rollout plans to be ready by 2015, while the University of Surrey has already opened a 5G research centre backed by £35m from the government. This is supported by firms including Huawei, Samsung and EE.
EE principal network architect Andy Sutton explained that while 4G is the firm's primary focus at present, 5G is already on the agenda because of the seemingly never-ending growth of mobile data.
“The next generation [of networks] is all about understanding the inputs that will hit the network. There is going to be massive growth of machine-to-machine communications and as a non-fixed operator it’s key we develop cost-efficient and scalable environments,” he said.
This is important, Sutton explains, because for mobile operators, predicting demand and ensuring capacity are not as easy as the fixed world where the number of inputs in any location is far more stable.
“We need to be dynamic. A robust control plane [to manage the network] as part of 5G will enable us to explore network virtualisation and functions so we can make it a commoditised computing platform.”
This effectively would allow the firm to control its network with more granularity, so it can ensure capacity is made available whenever necessary. The spectrums used for 5G make this possible, while the increased capacity will mean better speeds for users, even in busy areas.
For Sutton it is this stability at high speed that is most exciting. While high speeds make the headlines in the mobile market, such as the 300Mbps service that went live in Tech City last year, capacity is key.
“It was a great headline, but what I see is capacity. People are getting the speeds they want, when they want them. 5G will enable this better than ever.”
For now, any practical uses of 5G remain firmly in the lab, with Sutton predicting that any real-life demos are unlikely to take place until around 2016 or 2017. Commercial systems should arrive from 2020.
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