First 5G test licence awarded by ComReg will enable next-gen communications networks research

Researchers from Trinity and CONNECT, the SFI Research Centre for Future Networks, have been awarded a 5G test licence to allow advanced experimentation on the next generation of communication networks.

This is the first 5G test licence given by ComReg in the new 5G band (3.8-4.2GHz) and will enable crucial research on delivering faster internet speeds and more reliable mobile phone coverage, and on delivering new applications such as remote medical surgery.

A 5G test licence provides access to a portion of radio spectrum, allowing researchers to carry out experiments in real-world outdoor scenarios taking into consideration the effect of the environment, such as buildings and geographical features, on coverage and connection speed of a mobile network.

This is important because the behavior of wireless communications is strongly dependent on the frequency at which it operates, thus experiments need to be done exactly at those frequencies that will then be used by commercial implementations.

In addition, since the licence enables operation at the frequencies that have been standardised for 5G, it allows experimenting using the same equipment that is also used in commercial systems, which brings academic research much closer to commercialisation. This also allows the use of commercial smartphones for the experiments, meaning the experiment can be easily scaled up to hundreds of users and approaches like crowdsourcing can be considered.

Welcoming the award, Marco Ruffini, Associate Professor in the School of Computer Science and Statistics in Trinity, said:

“This 5G test licence will allow us to conduct experiments at the same radio frequency used by commercial applications. This makes our research particularly relevant to industry partners, and we are looking forward to many new collaborative projects with different companies, including new spin-outs from CONNECT in Trinity.

“This licence will be a key feature of our OpenIreland testbed as it enables deep research on the integration of optical communication, wireless systems (based on OpenRAN) and edge cloud.

“Most of the remaining challenges in the development of 5G are associated with intelligent software for network control and optimisation. This licence will allow us to perform research on these intelligent systems by exploring the use of machine learning and Artificial Intelligence for implementing network customisation and dependability. The creation of network digital twins will also form part of the research plan.”

Dan Kilper, Director of CONNECT, said:

“ComReg’s decision to award this test licence highlights the value of academic research in the development of 5G-and-beyond networks. We anticipate significant interest from industry and we are open to discussing how we can tailor research projects to fit the interests of those interested in exploring commercial applications.”

The Irish telecoms regulator ComReg said: 

“We welcome opportunities to facilitate test and trials for research and development of novel wireless communication services and technologies, such as CONNECT’s innovative 5G testbed, through Test & Trial Ireland.”

Trinity’s Provost Linda Doyle said:

“Marco is a brilliant researcher and a leader in the field of optical networks. His use of testbeds has been hugely innovative. The OpenIreland testbed, for instance, provides an end-to-end approach to the whole network using open interfaces and open source. This licence will allow Marco and his team to perform cutting-edge research on next-generation networks, which will be of relevance to academic and industry partners.”