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Want to know what 5G mobile is? Ask this British university

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Surrey University has scored £11.6m in government cash, and £24m from the industry, to fund the development of next-generation telecoms in a shiny new 5G Innovation Centre.

The government money comes from the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund, by way of the Higher Education Funding Council, but the bigger portion comes form Huawei, Fujitsu, Rohde & Schwarz, AIRCOM and Telefonica, which stumped up £24m between them to fund UK research into 5G telephony - just as soon as someone can decide what that means.

4G is nebulous enough, with American networks applying it to HSDPA, while in Europe we won't even call EDGE a "3G" technology despite it falling into that definition.

The ITU (International Telecommunication Union), usual custodian of such things, gave up last year and said anyone should be free to use the term "4G" as they wish, recanting its earlier insistence on speeds topping 100Mb/sec.

In the UK we have one operating 4G network, which we don't acknowledge as it's not for mobile customers. This allows EE to claim it's launching the UK's first 4G at the end of this month. Three, which could be last to the 4G party now that Freeview is being kicked aside early, won't apparently use the term "4G" at all - which makes sense given its name and branding.

Realistically, 4G will be the last generational shift noticed by customers, so 5G is unlikely ever to be known by that name.

The other problem is that LTE, the 4G technology of choice, is about as efficient as it can get: fitting more signals into the same frequency band just isn't possible.

LTE isn't much more spectrally efficient than HSDPA+, but it is more flexible in being able to grab a bigger (or smaller) slice of spectrum as needed. LTE Advanced will be able to grab non-contiguous blocks of spectrum and combine them to achieve greater speeds, but not by squeezing more into the same space.

But that makes 5G even more interesting, as the focus could be on mesh networks (handsets relaying signals), dynamic spectrum allocation (as used by White Space networks) and inter-technology roaming ... why, we might even see IPv6 integrated properly by 2022; which is when we should expect 5G to happen based on the ten-year cycle.

Anything is possible, which is when research is most exciting and hopefully we'll see some interesting things coming out of Surrey in the next decade or so. ®

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