Vodafone is showcasing a so-called "standalone" 5G network in Coventry University, and hopes this will help unleash the technology's full potential.
Until now, commercial 5G network deployments have had to leverage existing 4G infrastructure, and have been used mainly to deliver faster speeds and a more reliable connection for customers.
According to Vodafone UK's chief technology officer Scott Petty, however, this is "only the tip of the iceberg" of what 5G can do – delivering some of the capabilities of 5G that have had so much attention, but haven't yet been brought to life.
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Rather than relying on a 4G LTE network, standalone 5G networks such as the one now in place at Coventry University use new network infrastructure to deliver connectivity. And breaking free from 4G comes with some extra benefits.
Edge computing, for one, is likely to get a boost from standalone 5G as new equipment brings computing power closer to the user, reducing latency and speeding up applications.
The technology will also allow for network slicing. Having a dedicated network effectively means that portions of that network can be exclusively granted to customers for specific purposes, such as connected cars or IoT applications.
Network slicing, therefore, guarantees a degree of reliability and low latency, even in busy areas, which could be a game changer in industries like manufacturing.
In the Alison Gingell building on Coventry University's campus, the technology will be used to support virtual-reality-based training for student nurses and healthcare professionals in local hospitals.
John Latham, Coventry University vice-chancellor, said: "Being the first university in the UK to have this next phase of 5G technology is the first step on our journey to creating a 5G campus, and we will soon be able to reveal how we will use this technology to maximise the potential of virtual reality teaching for our health and life sciences students."
Vodafone's team has already successfully carried out a 5G end-to-end data call using the newly built standalone 5G network on the university's campus.
The telecommunications company teamed up with Ericsson, MediaTek, Oppo and Qualcomm to deliver the network in Coventry. Specifically, Vodafone installed Ericsson's 5G radio dot system in the university's facilities, which come in the form of 300-gram mobile broadband antennas that can be set up indoors to facilitate 5G networks.
All major operators in the UK (Vodafone, EE, Three and O2) have now launched a 5G network. Many have already demonstrated the technology's capabilities for industry, ranging from remote training based on augmented reality, to vehicle manufacturing. It remains to be seen who will be first to follow Vodafone's lead towards standalone 5G.