THEMES

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

INTRODUCTION

Digital communications are an essential part of a national infrastructure system. Hence, the UK Government is committed to becoming a leader in the deployment of 5G, and also has ambitions to rollout Fibre-To-The-Premises (FTTP) to the majority of households by the mid 2020s. Consequently, the Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium has developed an open-source software tool for assessing both mobile and fixed networks that can be used to evaluate different digital infrastructure strategies.

The simulation-based model uses data from a range of sources, including population forecasts, system capacities, coverage and data demands, and budget constraints, to examine how different strategies for implementation could be designed. The outcomes can be used to inform government decision-making, as well as for businesses looking towards the future.

Illustration of the estimation process: Population, imagery, terrain and OpenStreetMap layers are combined to develop demand inputs which can be fed into a simulation model based on least-cost network design to produce high resolution digital infrastructure analytics.

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

RESULTS

Full spatio-temporal results can be obtained from the model to help inform local, national or international decisions. Spatially the results can be very granular, for example in the UK postcode sectors are used (~9000). The temporal resolution of the simulation model is annual.

So far, the model has been applied to many countries globally including the UK, the Netherlands, Mexico, Peru, Albania, Pakistan, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

Figure 1 provides an example of the 5G strategy results for the Netherlands, demonstrating the potential cost per urban, suburban and rural user for different scenarios.

Figure 1: Required 5G investment costs for the Netherlands by scenario and strategy.
The digital communications model can also report the cost composition for national strategies to provide a basic universal broadband service, as demonstrated in an assessment which focused on East Africa (Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal) and West Africa (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda). The context is that many countries are still focusing on deploying 3G to rural locations, but it may make more sense to leap straight to 4G (because the technology is completely Internet Protocol-based, therefore has many benefits). Additionally, network operators and governments must make challenging decisions over whether to deploy fibre or microwave backhaul to new sites, thus the model quantifies the different cost implications, given financial capital is limited.

Figure 2: Example of the cost composition of national broadband strategies.

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

CAPABILITIES

The digital communications model enables:
Assessment of future long-term data traffic growth under different scenarios
Exploration of different technology-based infrastructure strategies (e.g. 4G vs 5G)
Investigation of the benefits of different business models (e.g. infrastructure sharing), and modelling of regulatory decisions relating to coverage obligations, subsidies and tax breaks

Additional features of the digital communications model include:

Estimation of demand-side adoption factors such as the Average Revenue Per User from satellite imagery (how much people can pay for the service)
Testing of regional digital infrastructure integration cost savings
Estimation of Wi-Fi Access Point density
DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

APPLICATIONS

The high-resolution digital infrastructure assessment results can be used to provide both analytical insight and support for a range of operational decisions. The capability developed is best suited to evaluate three different areas of decision making, which include:

  1. Technology options relating to the different types of technologies that could be used to design and deploy a fixed or wireless network, given different capacity, coverage and cost implications
  2. Business model options helping to inform the degree to which infrastructure sharing strategies can reduce cost and improve coverage to unviable rural and remote locations
  3. Regulatory/policy options quantifying the coverage impacts of universal service obligations, spectrum auction prices and the level of taxation imposed on the telecommunications sector.

The analytics produced for each of these areas can be of great value to infrastructure operators, governments and other digital ecosystem actors, as well as international aid organisations working to reduce the digital divide.

Figure 3 provides an example of the square kilometre cost for rolling out universal service broadband across the African continent using 4G and a wireless backhaul connection.

Figure 3: Square kilometer cost for 4G universal broadband using wireless backhaul (n=6395).

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

MODELS

cdcam

The Cambridge Digital Communications Assessment Model (cdcam) is a decision support tool to quantify the performance of national digital infrastructure strategies for mobile broadband, focussing on 4G and 5G technologies.

pytal

The Python Telecommunications Assessment Library (pytal) enables the assessment of fixed and wireless telecommunication infrastructure, with the ultimate aim of helping to connect more people to a faster internet. 

itmlogic

The Longley-Rice Irregular Terrain Model (itmlogic) is a Python implementation of the classic Longley-Rice propagation model (v1.2.2) and capable of estimating the signal propagation effects resulting from irregular terrain. 

podis

Policy Options for Digital Infrastructure Strategies (podis) allows transparent and reproducible analysis of policies options for improving digital infrastructure access, thus contributing to sustainable economic development.

taddle

Telecoms Analytics for Demand using Deep Learning (taddle) is a predictive codebase for estimating telecoms demand in areas of poor data availability. We provide the codebase to both recreate the developed models, and demonstrate how to use these models to make spatially granular prediction maps.

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

PUBLICATIONS

itmlogic: The Irregular Terrain Model by Longley and Rice

Billions of people still do not have access to a reliable internet connection. One of the most effective ways to provide wide area access to a dispersed user base is via wireless radio ... read more

An Open-Source Techno-Economic Assessment Framework for 5G Deployment

Wireless heterogeneous networks (HetNets) are a cost- and energy-efficient alternative to provide high capacity to end users in the future 5G communication systems. However, the transport segment read more

The cost, coverage and rollout implications of 5G infrastructure in Britain

Despite 5G still being embryonic in its development, there is already a quest for evidence to support decision-making in government and industry. Although there is still considerable ... read more

Towards 5G: scenario-based assessment of the future demand for mobile telecommunications infrastructure

This working paper from the Cambridge Judge Business School, and written by ITRC-MISTRAL researchers, uses scenarios to test how different business strategies might perform over the long-term, ... read more

DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS

CASE STUDIES

Pioneering 5G research underpins digital infrastructure investment strategies

Pioneering 5G research underpins digital infrastructure investment strategies

Dr Edward Oughton gives an insight into ITRC research which will allow the telecoms industry and governments to make better investment decisions around 5G Why is 5G so important for consumers and read more

RESEARCH THEMES

ENERGY
TRANSPORT
WATER
DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS
DEMOGRAPHICS
URBAN
DEVELOPMENT
ECONOMICS
INFRASTRUCTURE
GOVERNANCE
NISMOD
RISK AND
RESILIENCE
RESEARCH SOFTWARE ENGINEERING
DATABASES