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Why Bristol has the edge in UK 5G research

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Dr. Abhaya Sumanasena on 28 Apr 2018
  • Last modified 17 May 2018
The potential to expand the mobile operator’s business model by combining 5G wireless connectivity with edge compute capabilities is clear. Locating computing and storage capacity close to the user supports many personalized, interactive and low latency services – from virtual reality gaming to connected cars. But the physical sites for those edge nodes can be hard to find, unless you are a mobile operator with an existing grid, central offices, cell towers and small cell sites, into which edge infrastructure could be slotted.

However, this is not as simple as it sounds. In a survey of 65 mobile operators, conducted by Rethink Technology Research in January 2018, four key questions emerged, which need to be answered in order to make the 5G+edge business case clear.

  1. How reliant will their business model be on services that are focused on edge-enabled capabilities, such as very low latency or personalization?
  2. Will they invest in edge cloud infrastructure themselves or use a third party’s?
  3. How far should edge nodes be integrated or collocated with network elements like base stations or central offices?
  4. How can they build up a developer ecosystem, and will this involve cooperation or competition with webscale companies like Amazon, or with content providers with their edge-oriented content-driven networks (CDNs)?

A few operators have the resources and clout to carry out extensive R&D into new 5G/edge use cases, working with powerful partners like AWS. Many, however, rely heavily on participating in group projects, which allow them to study technical and business results while sharing the cost and risk. The UK, with projects like the Bristol 5G testbed, is taking a lead role in supporting such cooperation.

In the UK, edge compute has been taking an increasingly important role in 5G tests and trials. For instance, AutoAir is one of six 5G projects which recently received funding from the UK government. It will create a 5G testbed for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV), focusing on delivering bandwidth to high-speed vehicles (cars, buses and trains). ETSI multi-access edge compute (MEC) technology will be a key enabler of some of the low latency services envisaged.

Bristol is also a hotbed of 5G edge R&D in the UK. Many of the projects taking place in the testbed hosted by the city and its university have an edge cloud aspect. Last August, Interdigital claimed the first 5G MEC network architecture trial, conducted in partnership with the Bristol is Open digital initiative and independent TV production company CTVC. It took the form of a smartphone-driven ‘treasure hunt’ in the centre of Bristol in which participants had to solve puzzles formed in part from live video.

The purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate improvements to video latency as a result of supporting MEC over a 5G IP network. The trial claimed latency reductions of several milliseconds and video distribution six times more efficient than over standard IP.

This work, which used Interdigital’s Flexible IP Services technology, will also feed into broader work on new IP approaches to enhance performance of mobile edge applications, including an EU Horizon 2020 project, called FLAME, which aims to develop a Future Media Internet delivery platform supporting personalized, interactive, mobile and localized applications.

Nor is this the only significant undertaking involving Bristol and 5G. Others involve smart city applications, Massive MIMO and network slicing. And, as these and other initiatives take place around the world, we are getting a clearer idea of the edge-based services MNOs might be able to offer and optimize on top of 5G, and how they monetize them, as well as the non-traditional players that are becoming interested in joining them.