5G Innovation Centre (5GIC)

University of Surrey


The 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) is the UK's largest academic 5G wireless communications infrastructure research centre. The 5GIC houses 170 researchers in a purpose-built building. Facilities include the world's leading open and independent testbed covering 4km2, providing indoor and outdoor environments for broadband mobile and the Internet of Things (IoT). The main co-investors include leading international communications firms such as Vodafone, Telefonica, Huawei, Fujitsu and Samsung. Since its inception, the 5GIC has attracted further national and international investors and partners from both the public and private sector.

Key Findings:

  • Government support of 5G technologies through the UKRPIF award acted as an 'anchor' to attract additional investment in the 5GIC.
  • A longstanding relationship with industry partners was crucial to securing co-investment funding in the initial stages of the project. There is a strong industrial partnership with the 5GIC, with major firms such as Vodafone and Telefonica involved in research collaborations. Non-communications companies such as McLaren, Ordinance Survey and NPL have also invested and worked with the centre.
  • The 5GIC has leveraged £23.4m of co-investment funding by August 2017.  Partners have also committed a further £35.3 m of funding up to the end of 2020, in addition to a £5m commitment from the Enterprise M3 local enterprise partnership (LEP).
  • The 5GIC has leveraged £5.49 from private and public sources for every £1 of UKRPIF invested.
  • Collaborations are already producing impacts: an IoT system monitoring the homes of elderly patients has successfully alerted doctors and relatives in emergency situations.
  • The 5GIC has registered over 20 UK, European and international patents.
  • 46 SMEs are members of the 5GIC. The support provided by the centre enables more businesses to take a share of the growing mobile market.

Project outputs

Compared to the scale of other centres worldwide, 5GIC has had disproportionate influence on technology and standards development. The centre has critical mass, achieved by openness working with a number of partners.

5GIC: an innovative space that fosters collaboration

The open-plan layout of the 5GIC fosters new partnerships between academics and visiting industry partners, helping to overcome research silos. The co-location of academics and industry is popular with staff and students. The increased visibility of industrial partners also benefits the centre's students, who can see application of research first-hand. 

The 5G testbed

The testbed comprises a fixed core network and service platform, a network for mobile broadband radio, and an IoT network. The goal is to integrate these three networks into one, which will be 5G. The testbed is used by a number of - usually competing - network providers, helping them work together on joint standards. The close proximity of the research centre and the 5G testbed facilitates interaction between theoretical research and its application in trials.

5G testbed application: healthcare and the IoT

The university campus provides a natural testbed for new 5G/ IoT applications and prototypes have been implemented in university housing. The application of 5G is interdisciplinary, with potential for IoT to be integrated into all areas of daily life. For instance, the application of IoT in healthcare delivers benefits in the NHS, where deaths have potentially been avoided using early warning systems. Research involves other university departments (for example the law department) where the ethics and legal implications of the IoT are explored.

Industry and LEP collaboration

The 5GIC's six-tiered membership has grown significantly and now includes all major network operators, hardware manufacturers, and numerous SMEs. The centre provides a path for UK SMEs to the mobile market, which otherwise has high entry barriers.

Enterprise M3 LEP developed the local economic plan featuring 5G technology and 5GIC. Partnerships with LEPs across the country are being formed. The SETsquared model of start-up incubation and support that the University of Surrey successfully operates (with other universities in the South West) has been adapted to suit young businesses in the communication technology sector. In cooperation with SETsquared and the LEP, a 5G testing facility has been built in Basingstoke, with the specific needs of SMEs in mind.

Research outputs and commercialisation

The 5GIC has seven work areas that are all producing high-quality academic papers. However, high impact in 5G technology is often achieved by contributing to common international standards. 5GIC staff have set up two standards groups with the European Technologies Standards Institute - the 5GIC Strategy Advisory Board sub-group and the Standards Strategy Group.  New Industry Specification Groups (ISGs) on Next Generation Protocol and Broadcasting/Mobile have also been created. The creation of these groups and the development of 5G standards would have been impossible without the ability to run trials on the testbed.

5GIC has also made a major input to EU spectrum policy via engagement with the 5GPPP Spectrum Group and the Radio Spectrum Policy Group - 5G Working Group. At UK-level, the centre is providing input to UK 5G policy via the Future Communications Challenge Group.

Additionality of HEFCE funding

The UKRPIF funding was crucial, without which industry partners would not have invested at the University of Surrey. While revenue funding is available from the university, the LEP and the Research Councils, funding for capital assets is generally difficult to find.

The commitment of government funding through the UKRPIF acted as a catalyst for industry (including international partners) to make strategic investments in 5G technology. Before the 5GIC, the UK was not involved in the development of 5G. Now, Guildford is the "place to be" in Europe, influencing the international agenda on research and standards.

Future activity and lessons learned

As 5G matures, the research focus will shift from technological development to applications and data analysis. The 5GIC is collaborating with the Digital Catapult to capture data generated by IoT applications. In partnership with King's College London and Bristol University, the centre is creating a "5G Hub", linking three 5G testbeds. This project is supported by the Department for Digital, Culture Media & Sport (DCMS) with £16m of funding.