O2 reveals UK 5G test bed

(Image credit: O2)

The O2 arena will be turned into a testbed for 5G networks later this year, allowing visitors to experience the possibilities of next generation networks.

Operator O2, which has agreed a ten-year extension to its sponsorship of the iconic venue in North Greenwich, will start with select locations within the O2 before providing blanket coverage in 2020 – the same year that the first commercial 5G networks are expected to launch in the UK.

The testbed will be delivered using ‘Multi-Access Edge Computing’ (MEC) and will be configured for the virtualisation of core 5G technology. Nokia’s equipment will be used in the trial and the spectrum will be whatever O2 wins at the upcoming 5G auction, so most likely 3.4GHz.

O2 5G Testbed

O2’s ambition is to test various equipment and identify potential use cases for 5G, as well as to assess how the technology performs in live conditions. Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and live streaming will be among the first applications to be tested.

“The O2 will become a live 5G test bed using trial frequencies and configurations,” said O2 COO Derek McManus before the 2018 BRIT Awards. “We will allow our customers to enjoy phenomenal speeds and capabilities at least two years before they come to market.

“Real customer participation in these trials will help us understand the standards and the use cases for consumers, businesses and the public sector.”

When asked by TechRadar Pro whether the main opportunity presented by 5G was cost reduction or new revenue streams, O2 CEO Mark Evans was adamant it was the latter.

“Each generation has been structurally more efficient,” he said. “When compared to 2G, 4G has 50 times the bandwidth. We’ll multiply that exponentially when it comes to 5G.

“The beauty is not the cost reduction, it opens up adjacent market opportunities such as Smart cities, remote health monitoring.”

O2 also plans to hold trials in all four UK nations – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – before the commercial launch of 5G.

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.