5G: Vision to Reality

Key insights and resources taken from the IET RF and Microwave Technical and Professional Network seminar in September 2015.


The public’s insatiable demand for data and the growth of the Internet of Things (IoT) – where devices connect with each other over an IP network – has led to a need for increased capacity, super-fast connectivity and improved accessibility. The next generation of mobile communications technology is the 5G wireless network and unsurprisingly it is a very hot topic.

image of a man pressing a 5G hologram button  “With over two billion mobile devices being shipped globally every year, and data traffic doubling in developed world networks, we need to plan now for future networks,” highlights Dr Mike Short, Vice President Telefonica Europe and IET Past-President. “This is not solely about capacity or coverage but also about servicing the video age of messaging, Internet and TV services, plus the demands of the IoT"

5G initiatives

These requirements have led to the creation of a number of 5G research initiatives around the world, with the focus currently on lab work and wider private trials, which are expected soon. The UK is at the forefront of this research, playing a leading role in developing 5G infrastructure.

“The 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey is a world-class facility, while Bristol University is also developing technologies for 5G. It’s an exciting time to work in this field,” enthuses Professor Andy Sutton, Principal Network Architect, EE. “The benefits will include even greater system capacity, higher peak and average data rates and lower latency networking. This will enable new innovations such as the tactile Internet and immersive ultra-high definition video.”

View Professor Andy Sutton’s presentation: End to end and top to bottom network design.

Technical challenges

It can typically take a decade to bring a new generation of mobile communications technology to market and 5G is set to be no different. Research has been underway for several years but there are still technical challenges to face, including standards and regulations. Dr Nektaria Efthymiou, a specialist in this field, highlights some of the areas currently in the sights of researchers.

“The design principals this time will be different to what we used in previous generations,” she notes. “The old principles that worked well cannot be applied to 5G’s aim to ensure connectivity everywhere, at all times. Some of the targets set for 5G force us to focus not only on radio access performance but overall user end to end performance satisfaction.

“User-centric networks are a highly interesting trend that tries to supersede the concept of cell-based connectivity in favour of an approach where the network allocates the necessary resources to provide connectivity and perception of infinite capacity based on quality of service and quality of experience requirements,” she says. “Now the industry is discussing more flexible architectures.

“There are also discussions on network slicing, where the user data and control data are separated to allow more flexibility in supporting new services while avoiding unnecessary complexity in the functionality implemented. This will enable networks to operate in a more sustainable and efficient way. Discussions on how to optimise applications and services are ongoing and will hopefully change the way we approach connectivity, bridging the gap between the mobile and fixed world.”

Demonstrations begin

Some small-scale demonstrations of 5G candidate radio technologies are already underway and Professor Sutton soon expects to see systems-level trials that will highlight the achievable data rates and low latency performance these technologies can offer.

“Mobile Edge Computing is something that we’ve been demonstrating recently and gives us a glimpse into what a 5G experience might be like,” he explains.

There’s still some way to go but it’s clear that 5G will be an enabler for many other technological advances, including the IoT, connected cars and smart homes and cities.

“New business models are likely to arise with the growth in data transfer and the rise of data analytics,” notes Dr Short. “This in turn will drive innovation in business models as well as in customer applications,” he adds.

View the rest of the presentations on IET.tv: www.theiet.org/5gtechnology

  • 5G Mobile Communications: Timelines, Key technologies, Recent R&D – Maziar Nekovee
  • What can 5G offer vertical markets? – Nigel Jefferies
  • Bridging the 5G gap – Can the mobile industry really reach new vertical markets? – Simon Saunders
  • Semiconductor perspective on the challenges for achieving 5G microwave systems – Thomas Cameron
  • Backhaul and Fronthaul challenges for 5G system – Muhammad Ali Imran
  • 5G Network Architecture as an Online Optimisation Problem – Nishanth Sastry

Join in the discussion

Take a look at the IET RF and Microwave Community and get involved with the latest discussions on 5G.

Further resources on 5G

The Future of 5G - The IET Built Environment Sector have produced a case study on the future of 5G; its role in relation to IoT, DAN and smart cities is explored.