Bristol to host UK’s first public 5G test bed in March 2018

A combined 4G/5G test bed in Bristol will give consumers a first taste of the sort of things they can expect from 5G, as well as providing technical insight into network slicing and converged network operations.

Bristol will launch a live 5G test bed in March 2018, connecting a network run by BT and provided by Nokia to the Bristol is Open smart city platform.

The test bed will be launched on the weekend of 17 March with live events in the city’s Millennium Square, including immersive consumer experiences.

Professor of High Performance Networks at the University of Bristol, Demetra Simeonidou, said that the trial would provide, “the first 5G public experience in the UK.” 

Although project partners are “Still putting the storyline together,” the Professor said applications will include “a number of mobility use cases, something around connected bikes, and an immersive experience –  a 5G spectacular with crowd interaction and interactive immersing gaming between Bristol and London.”

“The timescales are tough but we are looking to create the first national asset on 5G,” she added. Naturally any live consumer experiences will de facto connect at first over LTE or WiFi access, so some may question if this is truly a “public 5G experience”.

Details of the exact configuration of the test bed seem to be still fluid, but at a media event in London Simeonidou and executives from Nokia and BT spelled out a few of the elements. The test area will be formed of a small cell-based network from Nokia, with a variety of radio access types including LTE Advanced features at 2.6GHz, 128T/R LTE MIMO operating in the 3.5GHz spectrum band, some “pure”  pre-standards 5G New Radio connectivity and links at 26-28GHz and also 60/70GHz WiGig from BluWireless .

There will be two bulky test 5G terminals connecting directly to a 5G NR link, and the intention is also to use 5G capacity as backhaul for advavced LTE and WiFi access points.

Additionally, there will be a live demo and trial of LiFi connectivity in a science museum (We The Curious) located on the square.

The trial will also be testing some network slicing capabilities across SDN elements to a virtualised core, tracking two main KPIs – latency and capacity. BT will also be having a look at Edge Computing as part of the trial, and the Bristol is Open fibre network will underpin connectivity between sites.

Simeonidou stressed that the overall purpose of the trial is to assess a system wide view of 5G-like use cases, controlling services across WiFi, 4G and 5G access, providing end user services from the cloud over and OpenStack infrastructure. 

For me the challenge is the overall network architecture – delivering end-to-end and integrating technologies from the RAN to Core, incorporating MEC and Cloud flexibility for innovation with network slicing. That’s where the breakthrough is,” she said.

Paul Crane, Head of Practice for Mobile, Network Services and Sustainability, BT said the test area would give the operator the opportunity assess things like performance of Massive MIMO in an urban area, Multiple access Edge Computing and how to carry out planning for 5G networks.

Neil Macrae, Chief Architect, BT, said, “We need to understand data on the operation of the network – what tooling is required, how we manage network slicing and ensure we deliver 5G features and capabilities. Exposing some to communities and customers to ask how use in their world”

We have to drive 5G from a use case perspective, to work with industry on piloting apps and getting a better understanding of what it will do for their business.”

The test bed is being operated as part of the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab, and is funded by the UK Government via its 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme. The intention is to expand applications and use cases over the test bed over time, and of course to upgrade to standards-compliant 5G acccess.