Whitepaper explores rural ‘not-spots’ in the 5G era

18th February 2016
Nat Bowers

The University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) has published a whitepaper describing the capacity and coverage challenge for wireless networks in the coming decades. Collaborating with partners from BT, Telefonica, Real Wireless and EE, 5GIC researchers identified a need for 5G to tackle the challenge of universal mobile coverage that delivers the required speed and capacity for a range of applications, in a range of geographical areas.

Meeting the challenge of “Universal” coverage, reach and reliability in the coming 5G era proposes a number of solutions for delivering ‘always sufficient’ mobile resources to users, whether in urban or rural environments.

Dr Tim Brown, author and University of Surrey lecturer, commented: "5G will be expected to deliver universal coverage but in order to do this we need to not necessarily build a faster, or denser network, but a smarter network. With the advent of 5G, users will want to hear impressive headline speeds, as this is how previous-gens such as 4G have been marketed, but in reality speed is overly focused on the urban user."

Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Head of 5GIC, added: “Our task is to give users the impression of infinite capacity by delivering an always sufficient response to instantaneous demand. This involves building a smart network that can handle basic demands such as 999 calls from the most remote of locations, to the delivery of reliable networks to villages and hamlets in an economically viable manner.”

In order to meet these challenges the whitepaper explores several avenues, from how future base stations will be designed, to how spectrum will be resourced and how smartphone design may be reconsidered for use in outlying areas.

Dr Brown continued: “Our paper explores seemingly simple answers to these difficult challenges, such as building higher masts to overcome obstructions such as trees and improved quality of the radio in mobile devices. Where trees are comparable heights to masts, coverage can be reduced by as much as 70% and this is the source of many of the rural coverage issues we see today. However, we must work with the public and authorities to ensure there is a balance between technology and landscape. This can be met with creative design that delivers what mobile users need, while retaining the personality of our countryside. The mobile device is becoming increasingly complex with more radios and antennas packed into a small space, but there are clear examples of how this compromises coverage.”

The whitepaper sets out the business case for investment in new small cell, ‘metrocell’ and ‘personal base station’ technologies for rural environments. It explores how new ‘Meadowcells’ (small cell developments originally intended for dense urban areas) can be adapted to provide small community coverage for hamlets and villages.

Alongside better use of spectrum resources and design modifications for new smartphones, such as ‘snap-on’ external antenna the paper explores how 5GIC research will address challenges that could benefit some 650m people across the world who are affected by poor rural coverage.

“Studies show that just a 9% increase in coverage equates to $1 trillion increase in worldwide GDP," concluded Professor Tafazolli. "These figures show the business case for combating rural ‘not-spots’ makes sense, and it is now our job to realise these challenges and help to deliver a global 5G standard that will ensure access for all.”

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