Getting 5G-ready with spectrum sharing

28th March 2018

Natalie Wood

Connectivity is a pressing issue in our digital age, and is not as ubiquitous as many assume. Superfast broadband has an availability of 95% in urban areas, but just 66% in rural villages. Those living in isolated areas should not be denied the same connections of city dwellers, yet they continue to struggle to access the internet, to the detriment of social lives and business opportunities.

This issue is close to the heart of Nominet’s Emerging Technology team. In the past few years, we have sought to demonstrate the role that spectrum sharing and dynamic spectrum management (DSM) can play in connecting rural communities. Predominantly, we have been applying DSM through our use of TV White Space (TVWS), to success in Arran, Monmouthshire and Loch Ness to date. This database works by dynamically identifying available spectrum left vacant after the digital switch over, making use of available resources and improving the connections in rural locales. That said, the same technology can work across any available spectrum and could be a powerful tool in the deployment of 5G.

These dual interests – and expertise – in spectrum sharing and rural connectivity led us to join 5G RuralFirst. This collaboration of 32 UK companies has come together to support and inform the development of the UK’s 5G eco-system to enable it to address the needs and aspirations of communities and businesses in rural locations in ways that previous technology has not been able to do. Nominet is one of the partners in the team, alongside Cisco, BBC and Strathclyde University.

The project was one of the six to win a share of the £25 million the Government is awarding as part of their 5G strategy to create the best conditions for the upcoming roll out. On 10 March the news was out – 5G RuralFirst had a green light – and now the work begins.

We come to the table with our spectrum sharing experience to explore how we can deploy 5G in rural locations for the betterment of local industry, residents and visitors. Ensuring the whole of the UK – rural and urban alike – have equal access to the internet is vital for today’s society. As we move towards a future in which 5G could underpin advanced technology such as health care apps or automated farming techniques, all areas of the country must have the strong connections required to facilitate this.

We are excited to be able to bring our passion and skill in spectrum sharing to 5G RuralFirst. Nominet’s focus will be on Orkney, supporting remote rural trials of new 5G wireless hardware based on low-cost software-defined radio platforms and innovative spectrum sharing techniques. What we learn will help to inform future spectrum policy planning and regulation.

This testbed will also support use-case trials in application domains, including agriculture and aquaculture, on-shore and off-shore renewable energy, tourism, and some telecare applications. In some cases, the benefits are related not only to commercial matters but also to Health and Safety – for example, where lone workers are operating in hazardous remote locations.

These activities will help to make 5G wireless infrastructure and spectrum more accessible in rural communities. We hope the exploration will discover ways of reducing the commercial risks associated with investment in 5G and ensure it can be rolled out nationwide.

Potential possibilities are almost endless in this time of rapid digital and technological development. That said, enabling rural connectivity must be a cornerstone of any advancements to unlock the benefits and transformation for the whole country. We hope 5G RuralFirst will be a first step to demonstrate the potential of DSM in facilitating a 5G rollout, working with other industry leaders to help make the UK 5G ready.