Shaping the future of 5G

The impending introduction of 5G is set to revolutionise the way we interact with and use technology. But how do we prepare for the world of 5G? And how can SMEs and businesses get the most out of it? The research team at Birmingham City University’s Intelligent Systems and Networks Group are conducting ground-breaking research that ensures we capitalise on 5G’s limitless opportunities.

shaping the future of 5g

Why we need 5G

With the widespread use of smartphones and emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, 4G’s limitations have been laid bare. In order to cope with demand, and introduce a whole new way of connecting with networks and devices, 5G will be firmly established in the next two years and will:

  • Be approximately 100 times faster than 4G, improving productivity and work rate;
  • Offer ultra-reliability, which will prove invaluable for the development and implementation of autonomous cars, digital health and digital construction;
  • Provide connectivity to millions of devices in a square kilometre area.

West Midlands will be home of the first large scale testbed for 5G in the UK, and behind the scenes, Birmingham City University has been conducting valuable underpinning research. 

Successfully managing network traffic

The team working in the University’s Intelligent Systems and Networks (ISN) Group, part of the School of Computing and Digital Technology, are conducting research that will prove essential once 5G is introduced, as well as providing a solid foundation for future analysis.

For example, with the applications of IoT set to multiply, Abida Perveen is assessing traffic flow management within the 5G architecture. “In the future, there will be many devices connected to 5G, which means there will be a traffic load issue. Some applications will have priority over others – for example, a message relaying critical care issues needs to be fast-tracked above something more administrative. My research will investigate managing traffic in these kinds of scenarios. We also need to ensure that only the necessary amount of radio resources is allocated to users. We will do this through networking slicing.

“There are benefits of my research to small businesses. Rather than a business purchasing and using a network that doesn’t need to be fully utilised all of the time, they could hire it for a particular time of day in order to successfully manage demand. By allocating this network to busy periods only, SMEs and businesses are reducing cost.”

Keeping everything connected

Fellow postgraduate researcher Alaaallah Elsabaa is looking into ensuring 5G devices and sensors remain connected to the network seamlessly, as well as being able to stay powered. “With 4G, if you charge a mobile phone and keep everything connected, you’ll run out of battery by the end of the day. With 5G, there’ll be more data to share and there are some things we won’t be able to turn off in order to get the service provision. I am looking into how we ensure the base station helps devices to be connected by sending energy wirelessly if the battery power is lower than the expected threshold, but without compromising the data rate the user is getting on their mobile.

“Some sensors are quite remote, but if they stop communicating back due to the lack of energy, I’m intending to transmit energy back to them to charge their batteries. There are challenges, but we’re devising a robust framework and will then assess how far the receiver can be from the base station, without compromising the quality.

“Businesses that are interested in collecting data, or applications dependent on remotely located sensors, should be very interested in this research, especially due to the assurance of sensors or devices being able to operate remotely without requiring costly maintenance.

Better data efficiency

Once 5G is fully established, a significant amount of devices will be communicating to the base station. Shantanu Islam is looking into ensuring there will be better data efficiency. “One of the biggest problems of having so many devices close to one another is interference. When we have such challenges and we are not able to decode them, we put some redundant components into a certain form which is known to the transmitter and receiver, which is called channel coding.

“For example, if you have two completely different forms of traffic but the same server is serving you, there is no point in having two different channels connected at the same time. If you can facilitate an encoder, we can mould them into one channel, so that will take overload from the network and release resources so that we can have more devices served.

“Currently, our mobile tariff depends on how much data you’re accessing, as well as how much you’re overloading the network. If we can merge multiple channel access into single channels for every user, then we can reduce the cost of that link.”

Reducing costs for businesses

Oladipupo Adekoya’s research involves controller placement. “Our pocket network has been decoupled into a controlling plane and data plane, and in a wider network it becomes a problem on how to place these within a set of nodes to ensure expected network performance and connectivity cost.

“Most of the time, whenever we have wireless network access, we have a fixed switch controller. Everything is different in 5G. Instead of being solely dependent on hardware devices, everything is going to be regulated with a software-defined controller. That way, it is possible to flexibly optimise, manage, configure and secure the network. I’m researching where I can place that controller in order to reduce propagation, latency and more.

“I’m trying to reduce connectivity cost for 5G user communities, especially for businesses. We currently have thousands of switches and routers, so what we can do is cluster them together and place a controller in a centralised area that can regulate thousands of traffic flows within the network. It will save businesses money as this will reduce expenditure of the network.”

These exciting, innovative projects not only showcase the talent of the University’s research teams, but also how vital research behind 5G is already being carried out, ready to usher in 5G to the wider world.

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Adel Aneiba

Adel Aneiba

Associate Professor in Internet of Things (IoT)

Adel believes that research is carried out for one key reason – to make a difference. Whether it be economical, social, political or technological, Adel’s research is designed to impact both the local community and the wider world. Adel has worked closely with leading software manufacturer such as PTC, IBM and TTN, and with West Midlands Combined Authority and Birmingham City Council on various projects related to smart cities, Internet of Things (IoT) and more. Adel believes that the collaboration opportunities for his projects are huge, such are the wide-scale benefits of smart cities, big data and real-time footage.

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