A common theme of nascent 5G is the search for opportunities to monetise advanced mobile propositions in industrial sectors beyond the telecoms sector – addressing “verticals” through Business to Business (B2B) enablement is claimed to be the holy grail of 5G. In 2016, Real Wireless carried out use case analysis and estimated the costs of infrastructure to deliver the use cases, this study done for the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and was referenced in their subsequent Connected Future report that made recommendations to the UK Government on a number of fronts. The Connected Future report highlighted the criticality of connectivity along transport routes with a recognition that significant improvement is needed to meet the variety infotainment, assisted driver, and other use cases that are expected to emerge.
Now at the end of 2018, six Trials and Testbed projects that are positioned within verticals covering various connectivity challenges and use cases are underway. The projects are part funded by the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) with significant contributions from industry. One of the projects, AutoAir, addresses the challenge of trialling advanced connectivity infrastructure for the road. One of the objectives is to provide an enhanced facility at the Millbrook Proving Ground to support the development of the Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) segment. There is also an objective to increase knowledge about the viability of small cell deployments along roads and rail, investigating a neutral host business model that could support such a network.
The AutoAir consortium is led by Airspan, with other members of the consortium; Millbrook, Arm, Real Wireless, Quortus, Blu Wireless, McLaren Applied Technologies, Dense Air and the 5GIC. The network that is being deployed at Millbrook is a hyper-dense small cell configuration utilising spectrum in the 2GHz, 3GHz, 60GHz and 70GHz bands. The design provides a neutral host configuration enabling several operators to provide services over the network. Multi-access edge computing and gNodeBs (5G basestations) are an integral part of the architecture.
The objective of the consortium is to provide proof points regarding the technical and financial feasibility of improving poor mobile coverage in transport corridors, and showing that constant connectivity, low latency, and high throughput can be supported by this type of architecture. The network economics of providing four independent national networks that utilise the 3GHz spectrum bands are prohibitive. Only innovation in approaches to sharing of infrastructure look likely to come close to improving the capacity of network that will be required for future CAV services.
The benefits of trials on this scale can be significant in terms of the learning and verification of feasibility. Through Real Wireless radio planning site locations along the Millbrook track have been identified. These locations will host Airspan and Blu Wireless equipment with Quortus providing virtualised network capability. Not all basestation sites can be reached by fibre, so the fibre network is supplemented with a 60GHz mesh.
Once the trials are underway the McLaren data processing capability will provide insights for the tuning of the network. The data will also be used by Real Wireless for the development of a techno-economic model to investigate the supply side economics and business case for the deployment of such a network along the national road and also rail networks.
The technical approach to enabling Neutral hosting is crucial, and an important part of the trial. Whilst some areas of the UK roads and rail routes are undoubtably not yet well supported by mobile connectivity some areas are already reasonably well covered by one or more MNOs. For DenseAir as the neutral host operator they will provide a complementary capability and will ultimately expect to present each MNO that it hosts with a “virtual e/gNodeB”. To ensure that each MNO receives an appropriate resource allocation for their services slicing techniques will be employed and tested during the trial.
The first fit of the AutoAir network is now well underway, with trials due to start in earnest in February of 2019. There are great opportunities for the project to demonstrate key features of 5G, and also to establish principles that pave the way to national road and rail route mobile connectivity improvements.
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