Tony Sceales Tony Sceales Head of Programme Development - 5G Programme - Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - UK Government

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Falling trees, newts and leaky feeders

  • Realising 5G networks in over 30 varied and exciting testbeds and trials regularly throws up a wide range of unexpected challenges.  This week was no exception.  


    At the Eden Project our partners reported that a tree which had been planned to host one of the 5G radios had blown down in a storm, while at the same time rare newts had been discovered in a spot where the Sunderland 5G CAL autonomous truck trial wanted to install a mast.  


    For the uninitiated, a leaky feeder is an industrial sized coaxial cable (an industrial sized version of the one your TV aerial is connected with) but with the shielding layer missing in some areas to allow the radio signal travelling along it to leak out into the surrounding area.  Very useful if you are trying to get a signal into a tunnel, this week the supply chain for some of the components our projects need was disrupted leading to delays to trials being able to start.


    Our team of dedicated delivery managers and technical design authorities work closely with the project teams, helping to look for creative ways to get around such difficulties throughout the project lifecycle and keep grant funding flowing in line with delivery. 


    During this, the final year of the original programme, our Programme Development and Business Operations teams are also working alongside delivery colleagues and with UK5G to ensure that cross-project and sector collaboration is as effective as possible, and that we continue to help the UK’s economic sectors and places answer three key questions: 1) What is 5G for (or what problems can it help me solve)?  2) How do I make a business case for 5G? And 3) How do I get 5G?  


    Of course for enterprises or local councils it isn’t as simple as it is for consumers to answer those questions, and it’s clear from the media that even consumers are struggling to really get what 5G is all about.  In part that’s because we’re only glimpsing what 5G might be capable of yet - we’re still using 5G that is more like 4G+, and in some locations that could even perform less well than existing 4G services.  When the operators roll out stand-alone 5G that doesn’t depend on 4G to connect, it’s performance improvement should be much clearer.  


    5G is also expected to be more secure, reliable and capable of supporting a richer set of services in many more places, at lower cost to operate and also be much more configurable than previous G’s - largely because it’s much more built in software with many network functions in the cloud rather than in expensive bespoke hardware.  It’ll play a key role in modernising our local and central government operations and the citizen services we all use - together with AI, automation, robotics, and other digital technologies. 


    But 5G will continue to coexist with fibre, wi-fi, low-power, satellite and previous mobile generations for decades - requiring governments and the industry to consider deeply how these elements interwork to best serve us reliably and securely.  Working out how the public sector procures and uses this hybrid set of networks across health and care, transport, education and infrastructure services as well as to enable economic growth in manufacturing, logistic and the creative industries - is a large part of our work and what we are doing across government, with UK5G, and with all our project partners.


    Storms, small amphibians and global pandemics ensure we and our wonderful collaborating partners have to be on our toes and thinking ahead.  We welcome your thoughts on how you might bring your skills, experiences and resources to help us, and look forward to meeting you in person or online at 5G Week in June.

    Tony Sceales
    About Tony Sceales Tony Sceales works as Head of Programme Development - 5G Programme at Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport - UK Government
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