Making a success of 5G

Alex Williamson head of business development at Nextgenaccess explains why 5G is much more than faster mobile.

Last time we looked at the characteristics that differentiate 5G from 4G and concluded, that if exploited correctly, many new game changing applications could emerge over the coming years. To get a better understanding of what these new applications might do, and from where they will emerge, we should look at the various 5G test-beds that are being set up around the UK.

Why testbeds

The 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme (5GTT), part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS), looks to harness areas where the UK has a competitive advantage – such as in scientific research, and the UK’s wide variety of technology businesses.

A lot has been written about 5G and its impact on connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) and Smart Cities, but more recently, testbeds are being deployed in UK ports to test a range of use cases that could have relevance outside maritime logistics.

Testbed design

NGA is working closely with Cellnex and a number government bodies to deploy the fibre infrastructure needed to make these private 5G test-beds work. Of particular interest is the work NGA and Cellnex are doing with the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) on the Port of Bristol testbed.

This testbed will comprise a number of remote radio (RRU) units mounted on existing lighting columns both inside the port, and outside along an adjoining road. Each RRU will be connected by dark fibre to a Mobile Edge Compute (MEC) node situated at the centre of the port.

Unlike 4G where “small cells” are standalone and all the clever control and processing happens locally, RRUs are quite different, they are pretty dumb, because for them, all the control and processing happens centrally at the MEC. This means that many RRUs spread across a relatively wide area can be managed to effectively operate as one big cell but with the capacity of many. In fact, a single 5G device could be receiving data from multiple RRUs at the same time, thus overcoming the 4G problem of a single small cell becoming overloaded.

What will be tested

Once built, the testbed will be used to support services that replace manually intensive processes with reliable 5G enabled autonomous systems. It will test three use cases that offer efficiency and productivity improvements to the logistics sector (and more widely) demonstrate the value of 5G in a logistics environment. The testbed will enable:

  • Security, traceability, and real-time tracking of goods in a Freeport and Freezone scenario
  • Autonomous drone flights for port surveillance operations
  • Improvements to road traffic management through 5G smart junctions (AI-based traffic signalling), easing congestion, improving traffic flow and air quality around the port.

Geofencing and tracking

The first use case will use 5G-enabled digitally geofenced zones and corridors to accurately track the location and movement of onboarded goods, not just containers but individual items within them. By processing and analysing the data from many different low cost sensors, it will be possible to not only locate goods in real time but also, determine their condition, maybe they have been subjected to excessive vibration or temperature change.

Autonomous unmanned drones

The second use case uses fleets of automated unmanned drones to carry out boundary inspection, ad-hoc surveillance, and trigger event responses. Operating drones manually is pretty intensive, and it certainly isn’t possible for a single person to control multiple drones safely. By using AI and exploiting 5G’s high bandwidth and low latency characteristics, it is possible to deploy “fleets” of drones operating to a script that could switch from a surveillance task, to one to one that gets medical supplies quickly to an inaccessible accident site. The HD images provided by on-board cameras can be processed centrally, and AI applied, so that only those requiring manual inspection can be bought to an operator’s attention. This negates the need for multiple operators spending most of their days looking at screens for many hours watching nothing happen.

Smart junctions

The third use case involves Smart Junctions. These are deployed at multiple junctions along busy routes, and based on road usage and conditions, they work to optimise traffic flow, not just for motorists but for cyclists, pedestrians, and HGVs. Smart Junctions aren’t new but by introducing 5G we can enable them to support many more sensors, have access AI, differentiate between types of road/pavement users and most importantly interact. The introduction of 5G and the application of AI to Smart Junctions will lead to a more effective and dynamically managed transport network with less congestion and air pollution.


Nextgenaccess offers a range of fibre infrastructure services suitable for all verticals, to find out how we might help you, visit our website or email us at

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