Twenty-Years On

I was a bystander during the 4G revolution but did have a ringside seat when I was asked by Lord Carter to be on his Digital Britain Steering Group. I watched with horror as Ofcom and the industry dug themselves into an ever-deeper hole over the division of spectrum between the mobile network operators. The fandango of spectrum swaps, caps and judicial reviews cost the UK 3 years of delay in getting its 4G networks rolled out in the UK. I’ve noted over the years that sometimes doing badly at something engenders a determination to do much better next time. Thus, when Prof Tafazolli took an initiative to start the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey he found strong support from a number of senior industry figures, motivated to help the UK have another shot at influencing global cellular mobile developments…maybe the last shot the country will have if the downward trend of influence is not reversed.

In 2013 Prof Tafazolli approached me to take a position as a visiting professor at the new 5G Innovation Centre, University of Surrey and to provide him with advice based upon my GSM experience. I was delighted to have the opportunity to re-engage with public service and particularly to support this exciting initiative. I proposed he made me Technical Secretary of the 5G IC Strategy Advisory Board. It was a position that was flexible enough to allow me to lend a hand where ever I could be useful.

Over the next two years I picked up various internal projects from getting an SME engagement programme off the ground to putting in place a group to help the University link into the global standards bodies. At the same time I absorbed the direction of the 5G initiative at the global level and compared and contrasted with what had happened with GSM at the same stage. I was looking for the differences that could not be explained by a different world or difference in objective. It probably meant that the lessons from GSM had been forgotten and something was being over looked. A lot seemed to be going right with 5G and particularly the willingness of Governments in Europe and the EU Commission to re-engage over the future of our mobile broadband infrastructure. As the UK government invested in the University of Surrey 5G IC so the EU made a big commitment to 5G in the EU Horizon 2020 research programme.

My analysis was based upon the formula for a successful change of generation of cellular mobile technology that entailed a carefully blend of:

  • A market need
  • Internationally standardised technology
  • Regulatory Framework
  • Harmonised spectrum bands.

It was not long before I was ringing alarm bells that suitable spectrum was not going to be available at the point of delivery of the 5G technology.

Prior to 2015 the global supply industry came to a collective view that the band at 28 GHz was to be the focus for the new 5G technology. Samsung in particular made a big lobbying effort to achieve this global alignment. The band offered huge bandwidths where data rates of up to 10 Gb/s could be supported. The vendor community was excited by the opportunity to develop components for these very high frequencies (generally referred to as “mm-wave” bands).  By 2015 5G become universally synonymous with hot spots delivering data speeds of up to 10 GB/s and using the 28 GHz band. 

Today Europe finds itself on a very different 5G track with three well chosen 5G “pioneer bands” that meets the requirements for very pervasive national coverage at 700 MHz (at modest data rates), very intensive data capacity at 28 GHz (with hot spot coverage) and a very good compromise between high capacity and wide area (urban) coverage at 3.6 GHz. Click on the link “the history of the 5G pioneer bands” to find out how this incredible change of direction took place.