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What is at the heart of both 5G and 18th century oceanic navigation?

  • 1.  What is at the heart of both 5G and 18th century oceanic navigation?

    Posted 07-05-2019 10:15
    Edited by Chris Jenkins 07-05-2019 11:24

    In worlds that are hundreds of year apart, complex global geospatial challenges remain the key to winning and losing.

    In a time when international trade and commerce was rapidly increasing, problems caused navigating by dead reckoning or running down a westing or easting in long distance shipping were leading to disaster.  From shipwrecks to navigation errors leading to longer time at sea, unplanned trip extensions were causing scurvy or even starvation, something needed to change.  The problem?  An inability to precisely locate a ships longitude and therefore position at sea.  A difficult scientific problem for certain, whilst much work had been done to improve astronomical mapping it just wasn't going to be enough for establishing consistent and accurate navigation.

    As a result, the 1714 Longitude Act was put in place by the British Parliament in order to rectify the issue.  This act promised a prize of £20,000 (more than £3 million in today's money) to the person who solved the problem.  There was a known relationship between time and longitude, as solar time (the time based on the location of the sun in the sky) varies by one hour for every fifteen degrees longitude, if you know the time at a reference location on land, then move out to sea and keep accurate time you will be able to determine your new position relative to the fixed location.  A sound concept, but extremely difficult to do without accurate clocks, and in 1714 timekeeper's lacked this accuracy. 

    Ultimately John Harrison's revolutionary marine time pieces solved the issue providing a new and accurate way to keep time while at sea enabling longitude to be accurately calculated. Apart from the primary objective of improving safety and saving lies at sea, this step change in technology ensured that the productivity and growth of global economies was ensured for the future. 

    Skip forward three hundred years and a technology equally revolutionary is on the brink of changing the world again.  5G mobile networks.  At first, this seems like an overblown claim as it could be viewed that 5G is just another way to consume higher resolution mobile video and to create more inventive ways to entertain ourselves with augmented and virtual reality.  But look a little closer and it is more than that, much more.  As British Digital Secretary Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP said:

    "As part of our modern Industrial Strategy, we're making sure that Britain has a telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future."  And "5G is about more than mobile phone consumers having a fast and reliable connection anywhere in the country. It's a vital piece of technology that can be used to improve the productivity and growth of our industrial sectors. That's why we're excited to develop new trials in areas such as manufacturing and logistics that can really benefit from 5G."

    So aside from these both being revolutionary technologies, albeit technologies that are 300 years apart, calculating longitude at sea did, as 5G will, change the world in which we live. 5G will create new markets and new jobs, even help drive the GDP of countries.  So, what is it that is at the core of both of these technologies that is the fundamental fabric for success?  The answer, precision and accuracy of location. 

    As Hamish MacLeod, Director at Mobile UK, said:

    "Getting the planning system right for future 5G and today's 4G networks is critical to ensure the UK continues to lead the world in digital connectivity. It is right that the Government has announced it is to look at simplifying planning processes and we stand ready to work in partnership to ensure this can happen as quickly as possible to aid the continued rollout of mobile networks."

    Whilst it is great news that the planning process will be simplified, how do you know where to locate the network for optimum impact, best return on investment and by most likely widely adopted user-case?  Three hundred years later, the same issue of accuracy of location again will play a major part in the success or failure of opening up new markets.  In a move reminiscent of the 1714 longitude Act prize, the UK government is putting up £40 million in investment for UK 5G testbed and trail projects. 

    The difference this time is that when locating millimetre wave infrastructure, defining latitude and longitude is simple, understanding who and what is at that location, when it is there, how long for, and if they require high speed low latency connectivity is just as perplexing as the aforementioned navigational issues. 

    With the densification of networks comes the challenge of sourcing and incorporating ever more accurate geospatial data. Luckily, there is data, lot's and lot's of data.  Data from RF planning tools, data from satellite's, customers, market segmentation models, mobile data, geolocated population data, geolocated address data, accurate transport network data, the list goes on.  Ensuring the accuracy of this data is up to the challenge of 5G planning is something that needs serious consideration, ensuring there are spatial systems that can handle this volume, veracity and variety of data whilst not being cumbersome and complicated will be the difference between success and failure.  Having the ability to store this data and be able to look backwards in order to estimate future requirements based on past events is also key.  Equally ensuring that sharing and facilitating collaboration between stakeholders and decision makers is simple and efficient is more important than ever.

    Put simply, there needs to be less dead reckoning and more precision in location.

    The inspiration for this came after visiting the 5G World conference in London and taking an after work excursion to Greenwich Maritime Museum and Greenwich Observatory.  I highly recommend this trip to all geospatial geeks.

    Greenwich Observatory and Museum                The Prime Meridian

    There is currently a green laser fitted to the ceiling that travels outside of the building exactly along the prime meridian.  In the dark this can be seen for 10’s of km.  Some local visitors report that on misty or foggy London night they can see the green laser beam travelling above their back gardens.

    John Harrison’s H1 clock is engineering, science and art rolled into a single revolutionary device.  His 4th timekeeper can be considered a masterpiece, John Harrison may have disagreed as he had a fanaticism for improvement.

    A thought provoking view looking north from the Royal Observatory over the grounds and grandeur of Queen Mary’s house onward to Canary Wharf, one of London's financial districts. 

    Chris Jenkins
    Pitney Bowes Software Ltd