Total Telecom caught up with Adam Leach, Director of Emerging Technology at Nominet, to discuss the emerging trends that are impacting on the UK’s pursuit of next generation connectivity
What trends are you noticing in the telecoms sector at the moment?
The sector is readying itself for 5G, with a current focus on spectrum availability. Regulators are preparing spectrum auctions and in some case clearing bands for 5G use. Operators are competing to secure their slice of the airways while examining the business case for 5G networks. Operators must be convinced that these networks are commercially viable before providers commit to long-term plans for network provision.
Concurrently, Government is putting increased pressure on service providers to better serve the people, most notably the rural communities who still struggle to access good connections. Unfortunately, these two trends are pulling in opposite directions, with one exacerbating the issues of the other. Both trends strengthen our own belief that spectrum sharing has a major part to play as we move towards 5G and could be the solution to both challenges.
What new technologies are you particularly interested in at the moment?
As Director of Emerging Technology, I am particularly interested in the overlap between new technologies, such as autonomous vehicles, and next generation networks. The opportunity within these areas is what attracted Nominet to be involved in the DRIVEN project, and we are one of a consortium of experts working together to prepare for a mass adoption of level 4 autonomous vehicles. Nominet’s contribution is to focus on the digital infrastructure to enable the fleet of driverless cars. We are exploring how to safely and securely share data from vehicle to vehicle, and vehicle to infrastructure. The impact autonomous vehicles will have on wider society is exciting, and we are keen to support the Government’s ambition to have driverless cars on UK roads by 2021.
Tell us a little about spectrum sharing – what is it and what benefits does it bring?
Global internet traffic is expected to triple over the next five years, and the majority of this traffic will come from wireless devices such as smartphones and the IoT. The wireless spectrum that enables this connectivity is already in short supply in highly populated areas. If the current model of exclusive nationwide licensing is maintained, demand for spectrum will outstrip supply over the next decade. Therefore, it is necessary to adopt new models for managing the radio waves. Sharing our spectrum allows for more efficient allocation of the radio waves as assignments are made in real-time based on local demands, like an Airbnb for the radio spectrum. One of the benefits of sharing is that it allows spectrum which is unused, for example in rural areas, to be used by the communities that live there instead of waiting for large corporations to fund deployments of networks.
Can spectrum sharing be used in conjunction with 5G?
I believe spectrum sharing will be a vital part of realising 5G on a wide scale. Both the Government and the telecoms sector agree that 5G coverage needs to be nationwide and delivered at a scale that is economical and inclusive – no one should be left behind. As the current model continues to underserve those living outside of cities, spectrum sharing is the obvious next step to ensure the connectivity gaps are filled in for the next generation network.
What predictions do you have for the industry over the course of the next 18 months or so?
Over the next 18 months I expect to see the first wide-scale adoption of spectrum sharing via TV whitespaces or through Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). This seems most likely to happen in one of the US states and in Africa. Demonstrating spectrum sharing can be used viably at scale will be transformational for the industry. I hope it will pave the way for more constructive conversations here in the UK about how we meet the growing demand for good connectivity.
What new markets are particularly interesting to you at the moment?
We are committed to exploring the rural market to find a means of providing good connectivity to those living in rural communities who continue to struggle to access the internet. We have already had success in this area, using our TV White Space (TVWS) database in partnership with local service providers to connect communities such as on Arran and around Loch Ness. This led us into 5G RuralFirst, a collaborative project that has recently received Government funding as part of their effort to create the best conditions for a 5G rollout. Nominet is bringing spectrum sharing expertise and previous experience in rural communities to 5G RuralFirst and will work on trials in Orkney, supporting remote rural trials of new 5G equipment based on low-cost software-defined radio platform and innovative spectrum sharing techniques.
Nominet will be taking part in the Connected Britain event in June. Nominet will share their expertise on spectrum sharing in Britain’s pursuit of 5G connectivity – click here for a full agenda and to find out how you can be part of the show.