AutoAir 5G testbed launched to test CAVs

By Michelle Donegan and James Rogerson 14 February 2019

Millbrook 5G

The UK’s AutoAir project has just hit a major milestone, having launched a 5G test network at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire.

The 5G testbed aims to put the next generation mobile technology through its paces to validate and develop connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) in the UK.

The launch event on February 12th allowed AutoAir to demonstrate the UK’s only independent 5G-enabled infrastructure for CAVs, including the transmission of live 4K video at 1Gbps from fast-moving vehicles, to a screen on a bus. This was powered by 23 small cells that were installed on the site.

Just the beginning

Millbrook 5G

While this test was a success, it was also just the beginning, as with the testbed now having launched, developers will now be able to test CAVs in a secure environment using a private, tuneable mobile network.

They’ll be able to simulate both weak and strong signals, assess the impact of varied terrain types, and even use augmented and virtual reality to create virtual events and test complex scenarios, covering things such as rail, infotainment, cyber security, simulation, network location trials and industrial Internet of Things (IoT), all of which can be monitored and controlled in real-time.

These sorts of capabilities are vital for testing autonomous vehicles, so the Millbrook testbed could prove a key factor in their development.

In all, the project will test how to deliver constant high speed and low latency connectivity to fast moving vehicles for CAVs use cases, as well as how to improve connectivity along road and railway networks to support other transportation use cases.

Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at Telefónica UK, said of the launch: “The AutoAir project is a great demonstration of how partnerships can help shape the use cases and drive the benefits that we all want to see from 5G. Test networks at sites like Millbrook will be crucial in understanding how 5G will enable the development of connected and autonomous vehicles as well as the associated business and consumer use cases which will transform the automotive sector.”

A long time coming

The testbed might have only just launched, but a lot of prep work was required to get here. We reported previously that as well as installing the masts for the 5G radio antennas the testbed required 19 kilometres of fibre optic cabling to be laid, as well as the aforementioned 23 4G and 5G small cell base stations – with a further 15 set to be installed.

The 4G and 5G small cells are deployed as a so-called neutral host platform so that the test network can be used by multiple private and public mobile network operators at the same time via network slicing. The 5G small cells will operate in sub-6GHz as well as millimetre wave spectrum bands.

Revving up 5G testbed activity

Supported by a UK government grant of £4.1 million, the AutoAir project is one of the country’s six 5G testbeds, which are part of the government’s broader 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme announced in 2017.

The AutoAir consortium is led by AirSpan Networks, hosted by Millbrook, and includes additional participants 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, ARM, Blu Wireless, Dense Air Ltd., McLaren Applied technologies, Quortus and Real Wireless.

Other 5G testbeds that have recently stepped up activities include the 5G Smart Tourism Project, 5G RuralFirst and the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT).

About Michelle Donegan

Michelle Donegan is a tech writer who has covered the communications industry for more than 25 years on both sides of the pond. Having worked for various industry titles, including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and Light Reading, she specializes in mobile network technology trends. 

View more posts by Michelle Donegan >>>

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