Tuesday 17th September 2019

Break up the journey to 5G with a few liveners at the Millbrook Proving Ground

Published on February 25th, 2019

We’re on a long journey to Level Five Automation and they’re getting restless in the back. How far is it now?

The last signpost, put up by 20 car makers, didn’t even mention Level 5. That’s ominous. It did give an indication of how long we’d have to wait for Level 4 Autonomy. “2022.”

To maintain the excitement for ‘autono-mobiles’ we might need to make a morale-building diversion. Which is why in February technology writer, Nick Booth turned off into the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, UK. It could be the best place in the world to stretch your imagination.

Morale booster

It proves an immediate morale booster for everyone. The owners of this theme park have built a 5G-enabled network with 60GHz Millimetre Wave connectivity created by a dense patchwork of 89 base stations packed into a small area.

This is where dreams come true for the car makers, mobile operators and software developers who are taking us to the land of Autonomy Anywhere. The builders of theAutoAir theme park, a consortium led by Airspan Networks, created an atmosphere of 5G that is so vibrant you can literally cut it with a network slicer.

Other contributors to the collective effort included Blu WirelessTechnology, McLaren Applied Technologies, the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, Dense Air, Real Wireless, Quortus and Celestia Technologies Group.

Are we there yet?

You would have thought so if you were at the launch, which was teaming with excited stakeholders. There was a McLaren thundering round the 59 mile circuit at 160 miles an hour, while streaming perfect 4K video data back to viewers. Which is quite an achievement given that it had to change the base station every two seconds. No pit stops for this lot!

Like all good service stations, Millbrook offers travellers both sustenance and a chance to stretch themselves.

It operates as a ‘free house’ – AKA a neutral-host mobile network – which means that all types of network concoction are available. There is an all-you-can-eat network of 1Gbps real-time connectivity with 256 Km/h continuous coverage and access using 4G LTE and the promise of 5G New Radio.

The reference cars are similarly neutral, their open-source nature meaning that they can be used by CAV (connected and autonomous vehicle) developers to recreate any environment. Their physical manifestation is a Renault Twizy but in the virtual world they could be anything from a truck to a Tesla. Virtual twinning means that a virtual model of the test track surface accuracy down to the millimetre.

Keeping up the morale is important for long journeys as it gets everyone pulling together and eager to share their expertise.


The launch was massively over-subscribed and there were a lot of commitments made to future collaborations, such as the Low Carbon Vehicle Show which is coming to this venue soon.

Probably the most influential attendee at the show had no story to tell. Mansoor Hanif, UK regulator OFCOM’s CTO, was enthusiastically engaged in some healthy discussions about giving the industry more access to unlicensed spectrum.

“He seemed to be listening to the industry and was aware of the challenges we face,” says Alex Burns, Millbrook’s CEO. “Knowing the art of the possible is half the battle.”

The author of this blog is freelance technology writer, Nick Booth.

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