Government can look to the likes of Fujitsu Laboratories of Europe for agility on connectivity
2019 has been a historic year for technology, in that it has seen the UK switch on a 5G network for the first time.
O2 was the last of the UK’s mobile operators to activate its network in October, with Vodafone, EE, Three and BT Mobile launching theirs earlier in the year.
Coverage is available in dozens of cities in the UK, but given the ongoing developments in its infrastructure, it remains limited and is yet to be rolled out in rural areas.
5G, the fifth generation of mobile internet connectivity, not only provides faster data download and upload speeds, but eventually is planned to provide wider coverage and a more stable connection, as well as being able to handle many more thousands of devices simultaneously per square kilometre.
From its UK headquarters in Hayes Park, London, Fujitsu Laboratories of Europe were heavily involved in developing the next generation 5G network, including in collaboration with the UK’s 5G Innovation Centre, of which Fujitsu was a founding member. The Laboratories of Europe operate as the Fujitsu Group’s global centre of excellence in artificial intelligence, security and internet of things services’ research activities in Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa.
In the here and now, 5G does have its shortcomings. Its networks can operate on multiple frequencies, but higher frequencies do not penetrate buildings and trees as well as lower frequencies can.
Using higher frequencies also requires additional transmitters, sometimes even taller ones, particularly in hard to reach rural zones. These transmitters have to be placed closer to the homes and business premises that need connectivity. More often than not, these nano-masts are connected to the internet by fibre.
Full-fibre, which provides super fast broadband from the telephone exchange direct to homes and offices using exclusively fibre cables, is currently the gold standard of internet connection and can provide speeds of one gigabit per second. Future upgrades could even see this extend to terabits [1,000 gigabits] per second.
Given the short-term shortcomings of 5G, which sees some homes struggle to get connection without additional wireless repeaters, full-fibre is often seen as a preferable alternative.
It is something that prime minister Boris Johnson wants to see rolled out to the most isolated parts of the country, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn promising to provide the service free of charge to all by 2030 should his party win the December 12 general election.
However, 5G could still emerge as a rival to full fibre, namely when it comes to the so-called ‘last mile’ of broadband connection from the cabinet in close proximity of the property requiring access, to the property itself.
The fastest fixed broadband packages like full fibre are often restricted to cities, large towns and large firms, like 5G currently is in its infancy. The logistical issues of providing full fibre to premises means that, like with 5G in the here and now, more rural and sparsely populated areas have to make do with substandard connection.
5G’s speeds can only match those of the current gold standard fixed broadband at best [roughly 80Mbps], but once 5G infrastructure is established in rural zones in the form of much more easily installable base stations, it will be able to potentially provide similar speeds but to more people. It will also come at a lower cost to consumers thanks to the lack of line rental costs, the downside being that it will be more expensive as a network to maintain compared to full fibre.
Of course, there is always the possibility that by 2025 and 2030, full fibre may become obsolete, particularly with new developments in technology by then. This is of course difficult to predict, but should other nations consider replacing their full fibre networks in future, the UK would start on the same footing.
Furthermore, the 5G infrastructure which is being established to safeguard its future at the forefront of connectivity could be utilised to allow 5G to make way for the sixth generation of mobile connectivity in years to come, where businesses like Fujitsu Laboratories of Europe will be at the heart of such innovations once again.
It is a possibility that to realise the vision of the major parties leaders for the whole of the UK to have access to super fast connectivity, it may have to come under different formats. The government of now and governments of the future can look to the likes of Fujitsu Laboratories of Europe to help the country access the most up to date and highest standards of networks, but for now the firm will have a role to play in helping 5G coverage truly get off the ground in the UK and take its place as a competitor in the market. Once that happens, one can gauge further what the future of internet connection in this country might look like.
Fujitsu Laboratories of Europe featured as a best practice representative in The Parliamentary Review, with their article available here.