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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

The Race to 5G

I attended a major industry innovation day in June at the stunning Grosvenor House in London with the alluring headline, Exploration Lights the Way Forward.

Punctuating the Day’s Shared Vision

The event boasted a smorgasbord of over 200 industry leaders, academics, scientists and researchers, as well as decision makers who will, collectively, shape the future of the ICT industry. 

The agenda was teamed with speakers who were prepped to discuss the IoT, Industry 4.0, the future of cameras in smartphones, self-driving vehicles, AI, FinTech (Digital Finance), smart (wireless) connectivity and, of course, 5G. Attendees were also welcomed to challenge speakers with an open Q&A session and, similarly, several panel discussions were used to punctuate the day’s agenda which, in turn, reaffirmed the shared vision of the ICT industry.

Revealing Achievements and Defining New Objectives

As we witness advances in technology, we can holistically architect a new technological revolution across numerous industries through open innovation and, in turn, evangelize the digital ecosystem. With this in mind and with eager anticipation for the event to start, I was psyched and ready to receive a waterfall of insights, news, first-hand access to technological achievements and theoretic wonder from key thought leaders covering a broad industry. Yep, as it began to unfold before me, I wholly embraced this new technological revolution, the challenges it presented and the excitement of taking new digital footsteps forward. 

With an impressive panel of speakers discussing some varied topics, from AI to ‘How New Technologies and the Industry Revolution Serves to Boost the Economy Through Smart Connectivity,’ as presented by Professor Ramjee Pasad, I revelled in the achievements that had been made thus far, and the objectives that have yet to be defined.

Future-Proofing the Next Generation

But there was one revelation that caused my jaw to drop. I was utterly aghast at the readiness of 5G technology and how far it had come, despite the rumour mill churning numerous stories about its immaturity. I was amazed to learn more about the 5G testbed currently being driven by Professor Rahim Tafazolli, 5G research pioneer and director of the 5G Innovation Centre, University of Surrey. He says, “5G will intelligently understand the demands of users in real time, dynamically allocating network resources depending on whether the connected device needs voice or data connectivity.”

You see, Tafazolli’s vision is about developing 5G – not just as a technology that will serve consumers and the industry for say 10 or 20 years but, rather, a technology capable of serving us for the foreseeable future. The professor envisages the next generation of mobile and wireless connectivity systems as one, which intelligently reacts to user demands. In turn, this will allow bandwidth-intense applications to perform seamlessly across the network, for example, whilst attaining flexibility for the system to adequately evolve and expand for, as yet, an unknown set of applications and their associated demands. Moreover, I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the current techno-demand today, in particular, how its use has evolved over the last 10 or so years, with the original first generation, soon followed by 2G, then 3G and now 4G with its unprecedented data consumption. We all stream media and, of course, use social media – both of which have been major players in our current data-rich applications. So, in other words, Tafazolli’s ambitious objective is to architect 5G as a technology that is “future-proof”.

Rolling Out 5G in the UK and Across Europe

The IoT is another contributing factor to the need for a connectivity system that, in this instance, will only utilize smaller bandwidth, since most smart cities and grids, along with transport and logistics, for example, will not require large data use. However, the data usage may be small, but when this is rolled out nationally, you can begin to understand the volume of data needed to meet the demand. Now, whilst the network might be prepared, I feel that most companies grossly underestimate the aspect of receiving, filtering and processing data harvested from thousands, tens of thousands or millions of sensors or “things”. Such data might be pre-processed at the “edge” or “gateway” but, ultimately, it needs to be received by your enterprise and your business centre – both of which are typically cloud platforms. Can your enterprise handle this?

Anyway, you might be wondering what was it that actually caused my jaw to drop; well that was when Tafazolli revealed that by the end of 2017, beginning of 2018, 17,000 or so students and staff members will benefit from a live 5G infrastructure network that will cover the University of Surrey’s entire campus. Finally! This is a tangible testbed from which the next-generation mobile and wireless connectivity system can begin to become more robust, as it evolves into a fully-fledged solution that can be rolled out nationally and across Europe. 

What Did He Just Do to My Head?

On a final note, there was one proposition that was mentioned during the London event which piqued my curiosity – you know, that moment when you start wondering, “what if”. I’ll do my best to recall and paraphrase it here: So, Dr. Marcus du Sautoy, Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford postulated a theory surrounding data that is collated from the current and future IoT sensor-base. More specifically, with such data, he asked “if we understand the past and understand the present, can we predict the future?” Damn. What did he just do to my head?

Alas, the professor went on to dismantle his conjecture and started to explain how it might not be possible to predict the future since there is the sheer true randomness of “stuff,” as well as chaos theory. And, just when I started to devise several algorithms to predict the numbers for Saturday’s National Lottery!

Until Next Time …

Seriously though, I really do think there is a possibility that, as with predictive analytics, we, in turn, will fully realize predictive diagnostics and maintenance (that is Industry 4.0) and, of course, what about predictive healthcare and preventative medicine? By the way, this is already happening!

So, this is where a crystal-ball bearing Dr G. signs off. 

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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