During the last year and a half, the largest test laboratory in the University of Oulu has been under construction in the Linnanmaa campus. The 5G Test Network, jointly owned by the Centre for Wireless Communications (CWC) in the University of Oulu, and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, already covers the entire campus area. The network technology has mostly been developed together with Nokia, but a number of smaller technology companies in the Oulu region are also involved.
Until now, the implementation of the test network has been led by technology. Now also web users are invited in the project, because the test network is, before anything, a platform for research and experimentation. Researcher Pasi Maliniemi says that doors are open for all who want to do something new.
”We want the threshold for joining in to be as low as possible. Everyone interested can contact the project operators, and together we will think about how to best utilize the network”, promises Maliniemi.
Project manager Olli Liinamaa (left) and researcher Pasi Maliniemi say that the 5G test network makes it possible to test in a real environment ideas and products that will come in commercial networks in due course. The test network is open for all who want to do something new and lead the field.
The 5G test network project makes it possible to study new kinds of data transfer needs. Research partners may include research groups or technology companies who want to join in the development of the network or test their equipment such as sensors or novel antenna technology. Students will also be offered a chance to come and put their ideas into practise.
Another important network user group are service providers. They can utilize the test network in developing and testing services and applications intended for end users.
Maliniemi thinks that the test network will offer brilliant business opportunities.
”I believe this will attract local companies, because they can now try out new ideas and products in a real environment before they come to commercial networks.”
From the University’s perspective, the vision is a wireless campus of the future, offering services designed for the needs of students, staff and visitors, and being a natural part of their day.
Users have the final say on what 5G will become
5G will be a major step in wireless telecommunications, because it gives networks new important features such as a higher bandwith, the Internet of things, minimal lag, and integration of telephone and IT networks. Interrelated with 5G there is talk of smart environments and the Internet of things, where devices communicate with one another.
Olli Liinamaa, manager of the test network project, describes 5G as a network of networks.
”5G is, in a manner of speaking, an umbrella theme for forward-looking things. The build of the 5G network will be different from present-day data communication networks, but it will not replace them but rather complement them”, says Liinamaa.
Some of the new features could be realized in a small scale with the 4G network, but current networks cannot do everything. The number of devices connected to the network is going to increase by hundred- or even thousandfold from the current number of network users.
Because 5G uses a high radio frequency and does not penetrate walls, the network requires base stations and antennae located indoors (pictured). The antenna network covering the entire Linnanmaa campus area is the first 5G data communications network serving a regional community of its kind in the world.
Data transfer must also get faster and more reliable.
”For example, it is not yet possible to put into practice the data transfer that robot cars require for communicating through a network. On the other hand, there are simple devices whose data transfer needs are too small for today’s networks. These devices need a connection which will minimize energy consumption. The range of needs is constantly expanding”, says Pasi Maliniemi.
It is users who will have the last say on what 5G will be. Technology can be equally well utilized in industrial processes than in the everyday life of an individual person. For example, service solutions developed for seniors could enable them to live at home longer.
Oulu has technological core knowhow in 5G data transfer
From the perspective of research, 5G technology is challenging. New solutions in radio technology must be developed, because the frequencies used are getting higher and higher. That makes the signal range shorter and less penetrating of materials.
”Travelling of radio waves and controlling the communication on new, higher frequencies makes up the core of CWC’s research. The network also opens possibilities to many other kinds of research, even in other faculties”, says Maliniemi.
One interesting theme for research is how networks primarily built indoors will change the operator business. For example, the indoor network in the Linnanmaa campus could be controlled by one operator.
The 5G data communications network will enable fast and reliable data transfer between devices. Future IOT devices can be tested in the network, such as an air quality indicator (pictured) and the transfer and refinement of the data it collects.
As the technology develops, building of the 5G test network continues. One important showcase for 5G research are the Pyongyang 2018 Olympic Winter Games in the Republic of Korea. Oulu researchers are participating in an international consortium which implements 5G demos for the Olympic Games.
Japanese operators have already promised to open a 5G network for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
”It remains to be seen if there still exist data terminal equipment then, and what they can be used for. But it is probable that by then it has become possible to open networks commercially”, says Liinamaa.
Text: Heidi Hahtola
Pictures: Juha Sarkkinen
Last updated: 20.3.2018