Ordnance Survey to create smart map for UK’s 5G roll-out

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UK mapping agency Ordnance Survey (OS) has been chosen by the Department of Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to develop a groundbreaking planning and mapping tool that will be instrumental for the national roll-out of 5G technology, the next generation of wireless communications needed to bring internet-connected devices into everyday life.

OS will lead a consortium that includes the 5G Innovation Center and the Met Office, and together they will build a ‘digital twin’ of the real world, which will be used to determine the prime locations to place the radio antennae (access points) necessary to enable a 5G network. The planning and mapping tool will be trialled first in the south coast town of Bournemouth (above), and if successful, the tool has the potential to be scaled up to cover the rest of the UK, and shared with other countries as they develop their own 5G networks. Surveying for parts of Bournemouth, which is a testbed for the national roll-out of 5G, is already underway and will be used to generate the new model.

Networked sensors and beacons will depend on seamless access to the 5G network. The higher frequencies offered by 5G deliver significant increases in bandwidth that these devices will demand. Higher frequencies have a shorter range, and so a huge amount of equipment is needed to support the network and make it robust. Industry sources have suggested thousands of sites will be needed with higher frequencies to assure widespread national 5G coverage. Higher frequencies also mean much larger amounts of data can be sent and received than at current cellular frequencies. This ability to transfer large amounts of data is important for meeting the increasing demand for bandwidth brought about by the growth of the internet, and it is vital to the future success of new technology concepts, including Smart Cities, the Internet of Things (IoT), and connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

One issue with the roll-out of a 5G network is that details such as different construction materials can markedly reduce the capability for radio signals to travel, and at very high frequencies, even raindrops and the leaves of a tree can interfere with the radio signals. To make 5G a success, access points and network equipment must be deployed where the impact of the built and natural environment has minimal effect. Discovering where to best place the large amount of equipment required for a national 5G network would be a very time consuming and costly exercise of trial and error, but with the data visualization tool OS will create, the vast majority of the work could be done from a desk. Network planners can open the digital model and place an access point, allowing them to immediately see what inhibits the technology from being able to communicate.

Minister for Digital and Culture Matt Hancock, said, “Our ambition is to be a world leader in 5G technology, which is why we are investing in research and demonstration initiatives like this groundbreaking 5G mapping pilot.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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