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Looking Beyond 4G: U.K. Uni Secures £35M For 5G R&D Center, Backed By Huawei, Samsung, Telefonica

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It’s no secret the U.K. has been a 4G laggard, with LTE only now finally starting to get off the ground — a small local broadband provider has just switched on the first commercial 4G network, while the first big 4G deployment from a mobile operator won’t go live until October 30. But today a project has been green-lit by the government that’s aiming to ensure the country takes a pioneering role in developing the next generation of cellular technologies coming down the pipe: 5G.

A funding bid by the University of Surrey to establish a specialised 5G research centre at its location in the south east of England has been approved by the department for Business Innovation and Skills, subject to final due diligence from the Higher Education Funding Council for England. The Center will see 5G technologies developed and tested in the U.K., as the industry works to establish a standard for the next next generation of cellular (albeit, don’t expect this one to come on-stream for many years yet).

The research center will be established with £35 million in financial backing — £11.6 million of which is coming from the government, via the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UK RPIF) which supports long-term university capital projects. An additional sum of around £24 million is being put up by a consortium of mobile operators and infrastructure providers — including Huawei, Samsung, Telefonica Europe, Fujitsu Laboratories Europe, Rohde-Schwarz and AIRCOM International.

Commenting on the success of the funding bid, Professor Rahim Tafazolli, head of the University of Surrey’s Centre for Communication Systems Research, said there are “massive challenges and opportunities facing the sector” in the years ahead — with “unprecedented” growth in mobile data usage driving revenues but also putting increased strain on networks — making it imperative that 5G standards are developed to increase the spectrum efficiency of carrier technologies.

“The global telecommunications industry, valued at $2.1 trillion per annum, is already responsible for 6 percent of world GDP.  Mobile communications data traffic is expected to increase 1,000 fold by 2020, by which time there will be an estimated at least 50 billion Internet-capable devices,” he noted in a statement.

“The growth in the number of new applications running on the networks is accelerating, as ever more mobile devices become the preferred route for Internet access. Such unprecedented data traffic growth requires the urgent introduction of new 5G advanced technologies that maximise the use of the limited available radio spectrum and provide for Greener technologies and solutions.”

Tafazolli also noted that the U.K. has “increasingly fallen behind” in succeeding generations of 3G and 4G standards — making it all the more imperative for the country to play an active role in developing 5G standards. “The University’s industry partners have identified this proposal as the single biggest opportunity for the U.K. to regain a world leading position in the development of 5G technologies and for the development of vibrant businesses around the technologies,” he said.

The University of Surrey’s 5G research center is one of seven successful bidders for this round of UK RPIF funds, each garnering between £10 million and £35 million in government funds. To access the public funds universities must at least match those funds with additional investment from private companies or charities.