Europe’s largest 5G testbed upgrades to OpenRAN

Europe’s largest 5G testbed upgrades to OpenRAN
Business news |
Dense Air and the Millbrook proving ground are extending Europe's largest standalone 5G neutral host network with OpenRAN technologies.
By Nick Flaherty


Dense Air is upgrading the 5G testbed developed as part of the AutoAir project in the UK to add more flexible OpenRAN technologies. 

The network at Millbrook, Bedfordshire, will be one of the first, and the largest standalone 5G neutral host networks in Europe. Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) developers will have access to the latest technology, including low latency connectivity, network slicing and the opportunity to test vehicles in more advanced networks which are available in key export markets.

These enhanced network technologies will be deployed at Millbrook’s 700 acre test facility in early 2021. In addition to its extensive test tracks and laboratories, Millbrook is home to the UK Government Controlled Urban Testbed for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles – part of CAM Testbed UK.

The AutoAir network is being migrated to commercial grade OpenRAN, disaggregated RAN and cloud native 5GC based 3GPP 5G SA (standalone) technologies, making extensive use of Airspan Networks’ products. This deployment supports the UK Government’s supply chain diversity initiative and is compliant with emerging OpenRAN standards which seek to democratise the supply of Radio Access Units within an open source platform.

The network will operate on spectrum at 4G Band 40 (2.3 GHz), 4G Band 3 (1.8 GHz) and 5G Band n77 (3.8 & 4.2 GHz) under pioneering shared access licenses. This will allow private networks to work with their own allocation of radio spectrum for test and development, whilst also supporting public access from mobile network operators. The n77 band is the same as is already in commercial operation in Japan and which is currently being auctioned in the USA by the Federal Communications Commission. This means that users will be able to test CAVs in the UK, using the latest network frequencies, before exporting vehicles to Japan and the USA.

With standalone 5G, the full capabilities of the latest 3GPP release can be realised in a secure private operating environment with pervasive coverage across Millbrook Proving Ground. This brings Ultra Reliable Low latency Communications (URLLC), Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC), and network slicing capabilities into a real-world test arena for the first time in the UK. Each adds significant value to the technology landscape.

With URLLC, latency as low as 3ms can be experienced and mMTC brings the potential of connecting massively more devices per square km than previously possible. Network slicing in essence gives a dedicated portion of the network to each network service, facilitating separate localisation, edge-computing and cloud access. 

“One of the key goals of the DCMS AutoAir 5G project was to ensure that the network we constructed was sustainable and provided a lasting legacy for Millbrook and the UK’s CAV eco-system,” said Paul Senior, CEO of Dense Air. “The deployment of a 3GPP 5G standalone infrastructure using the n77 band creates a unique test and development opportunity that can support both automotive and telecommunication eco-systems, within a bookable and accessible research facility.”

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