Modelling 5G technology for the UK

Communications networks are an essential part of the UK’s national infrastructure, and the UK government is committed to becoming a leader in 5G technology. The move to 5G is a key part of the UK’s industrial strategy, enabling businesses and government to take advantage of the wider economic benefits improved productivity could bring via enhanced connectivity. There is an urgent need to understand the reality of what 5G infrastructure would look like, now and into the future.

The ITRC and Digital Catapult are working together to develop an open-source software tool of both mobile and fixed networks that can be used to assess and predict the UK’s 5G infrastructure strategy. The model will use data from a range of sources, including population forecasts, system capacities, coverage and data demands, and budget constraints, to examine what different strategies for implementation could look like. The outcomes can be used to inform government decision-making, as well as for businesses looking toward the future.

“Few tools exist to help quantify the performance of different digital infrastructure strategies for either 5G or rolling out fibre to the premises,” says lead researcher Dr Edward Oughton, from the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford. “The platform we have developed allows different strategies to be compared in terms of capacity, coverage and cost, allowing decisions in industry and government to be better informed. Importantly, as the model has a graphical user interface, it means it can be utilised by non-technical users, unlike the limited number of engineering models that exist.”

While the researchers will eventually be able to model both mobile and fixed networks, stage one of the project will see the creation of the mobile networks infrastructure model. To develop the model, researchers are working to collect data from a range of key stakeholders, which will then contribute to the development of an open-source software. The software will be used to assess and predict the UK’s capacity, coverage, and the cost of different options for 5G infrastructure.

The 5G mobile networks model will be used as a stand-alone, or can be integrated with the National Infrastructure Systems Model (NISMOD) to get a full understanding of how 5G infrastructure can interact with and impact other systems. This evidence will provide policy-makers with a more realistic understanding of digital infrastructure strategies, and the information necessary to effectively implement 5G technology across the UK.