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Innovation Briefing Issue 9 | Project Roundup: Autoair

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 10 May 2022
  • Last modified 26 Apr 2022
The AutoAir consortium delivered a fully operational 4G and 5G high speed mobile data network at Millbrook Proving Ground to support the development, testing and validation of connected and self driving vehicles, and to accelerate driverless vehicle testing and development.

This project was formed in response to DCMS’s call for the establishment of 5G vertical sector testbeds and trials in 2017. A wide ranging, cross sector partnership brought together mobile communications and transport industries into one technological tour de force deployment at Millbrook. Since 2019, the testbed has acted as the cornerstone for innovation in the country, positioning the UK automotive industry as a leader in global connected autonomous vehicle (CAV) and driverless vehicle development.

AutoAir’s innovative proposition was the deployment of a novel public and private neutral host “hyper-dense” small cell network for both road and rail transport corridor - this deployment remains a world first for 5G deployment. Providing a single shared infrastructure allows multiple public and private mobile operators to simultaneously use the same infrastructure; this network slicing radically improves the economics for 5G networks, and unlocks many future use cases.

Today the network consists of 89 radios operating in 2.3 GHz, 3.5 GHz, 3.8-4.2 GHz and 57-71 GHz bands. 59 masts were fitted around the site, linked by 30 kilometres of power lines and fibre cabling. As a “first of its kind” project, site engineers overcame early challenges posed by nature in the delivery of masts fixed in living woodland areas. In another world first the AutoAir mmWave network for high speed communications enabled a continuous data rate of 1 Gbit per second to a vehicle travelling at 250 km/hr (160 mph).

Each partner in the consortium contributed in its own specialist area: UTAC Millbrook Proving Ground provided the venue which is used for automotive research, engineering, and testing; McLaren applied the electronic control and drive solutions, high performance analysis software and intelligent fleet management solutions; Quortus provided the core network at Millbrook, ensuring the private network traffic was processed effectively and did not leave the site unless specifically authorised; Real Wireless completed the radio network design and planning, optimisation and business case solutions for nationwide strategic roadside deployment.

5G has been an essential component of the project, to which multiple partners have been of great assistance. The University of Surrey, which is host to the 5G Innovation Centre, led the research and development of 5G technologies and standards; Airspan Networks developed solutions that combine 5G small cell base stations with Gbit/s backhaul; Dense Air operates a small cell network with neutral host capability, allowing multiple operators to access a single hardware, increasing the density and bringing pervasive 5G connectivity to the project; Blu Wireless developed technology and equipment that has provided Gbit/s connectivity to vehicles moving at high speeds and for 5G fronthaul and backhaul connectivity; Celestia Technologies developed the 5G electronic Antenna systems; and finally, Telefonica (O2) and Atkins joined the consortium for the second phase of work to test various 4G and 5G use cases.

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