The most exciting place to test cars has just become the most exciting place to test mobile phones.
Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire is where motor manufacturers go to test prototype cars. There is a two-mile circumference high-speed bowl, a fabulous test route known as the Hill Route, handling circuits, different pavement finishes from all over the world, a skid pan and a mile long straight for speed tests.
It’s now the proving ground for 5G. The British Government, recognising the importance of 5G technology and keen for the UK to have a leading position, is funding a number of testbed projects. The company Real Wireless did some market analysis for the National Infrastructure Commission and came up with a conclusion that one of the most important areas for improving communication was transport routes, both rail and road. It noted that drivers and cars will expect to be connected all the time and many driver aids – such as a system Volvo has for warning of black ice – will require it.
A financial alliance of the Department for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) and industry funding has produced six test beds and one is in Bedfordshire, at Millbrook. Called AutoAir, it’s aimed at testing out advanced connectivity infrastructure for the road, and as the newest cars are tested at Millbook there is a good case for putting the kit there.
The AutoAir consortium is led by Airspan, with support from the 5GIC, Arm, Blu Wireless, Dense Air, McLaren Applied Technologies, Millbrook, Quortus and Real Wireless. Before you start thinking that the new McLaren Speedtail will be the first car with a 5G mobile phone, McLaren Applied Technologies is a separate division which takes the technology developed by McLaren Automotive and sells it into the other industries.
Millbrook is a big site but the level of coverage is very high and the use of millimetre wave technology means a lot of small cells. It’s based on 2 GHz, 3 GHz, 60 GHz and 70 GHz bands, and being run as a neutral host so that AutoAir provides the infrastructure and other operators – be they BT, EE, Vodafone, Three or O2 can connect to, and experiment with, the network. Processing has been moved from the core to give multi-access edge computing and narrow band gNodeBs (5G basestations) as an integral part of the architecture. The neutral host model of infrastructure sharing is expected to be essential in bringing down the cost of installing a high density mobile network, and part of the work done by the test bed is to show how multiple networks can play nice as well as looking at the technical feasibility of improving poor mobile coverage in transport corridors, and showing that constant connectivity, low latency, and high throughput can be supported by 5G.
Real Wireless radio planning has located sites around the Millbrook estate and kit will be installed form Airspan and Blu Wireless equipment with Quortus providing virtualised network capability. Not all base station sites can be reached by fibre, so the fibre network is supplemented with a 60GHz mesh. Trials are due to start in February, heavy snow will challenge the 60 GHz backhaul as much as it challenges the sports cars on the test track. Once the trials are underway the McLaren will crunch the data and work on the tuning of the network. The data will also be used by Real Wireless for the development of a model to build the business case for the deployment a neutral hosted 5G network along the national road and also rail networks.
Contributor: Simon Rockman
Simon Rockman is the publisher of CW Journal read by the wireless and associated communities.