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25th September 2017, Stuttgart

Is the composites industry ready for super-cities and the era of 5G?

Mikko Lassila, sales development manager, Exel Composites, Finland. © Inside CompositesAt this year’s International Composite Congress in Stuttgart, you spoke of the emergence of super-cities and how they will transform infrastructural needs. What’s likely to happen?

Mikko Lassila: Cities are already taking a bigger role in many infrastructure decisions, rather than waiting for national governments, and this will only grow. Kjell A. Nordstrom, the famous Swedish economist, has predicted that instead of 200 countries, it will soon be the around 600 major cities which will wield all the influence. By 2025 there will be more than 40 global mega-cities of more than eight million people, and a number with over 27 million. All growing cities are fighting with the same range of issues.

What are the main ones?

ML: They include efficient transportation systems, energy consumption, climate change, population growth, air quality and people flow, and a better digital service infrastructure is required to deal with many of these issues. The current capacity of digital networks is totally insufficient to cope with the projected new users and digital services being built and planned. If you consider that by 2010 there were 13 billion active Internet of Things devices in circulation and by 2020 it will be 50 billion – and by 2035 around one trillion – then a major new solution is being called for and its establishment is already underway.

And that is?

ML: 5G. The problem can only be solved by using small cell 5G radio technology and higher frequencies – and this requires dense networks of antennas setting new requirements for the network infrastructure.

For readers who may not be fully aware of it, what is 5G?

ML: 5G, working on a millimetre wavelength of 3.5-78Ghz, will change the whole telecoms market and infrastructure, allowing data transmission up to a hundred times faster than the current 4G/LTE and with a latency of one millisecond, which is faster than human reactions. It will introduce many more micro operators via network slicing and require thousands of antennas and sensors to be integrated into the infrastructure. Test sites are already being built up around the world and global deployment will begin from 2018. It’s 100% certain it’s going to happen.

Lux Turrim 5G project in Finland. © Exel Composites

And where do composites fit in?

ML: Firstly, all those antennas and sensors in infrastructure will require camouflage solutions and radome materials are going to be much more important than in the past. Infrastructural composites could ideally incorporate them. For better radio signal permeability through walls and windows – both inside and outside – materials will need to have low di-electricity and loss tangent. In addition, for better flow outdoors, the infrastructure needs to be as transparent as possible. Passive housing is a good thing, but it’s currently causing the enveloping of buildings which means that signals are getting weaker and in some cases not getting in or out at all. It’s an issue that hasn’t been fully considered, so there’s a huge opportunity for composites

These issues are being fully explored within the €15 million Lux Turrim 5G project in Finland. Can you tell us a little about its aims?

ML: It’s an ambitious three-year joint project involving ten leading companies and three research institutes and led by Nokia Bell Labs, The aim is to make big data capacity available for companies and users through a network of smart light poles, which include antennas and base stations, for the novel fast 5G networks. The project includes the technical development of the smart light poles with integrated 5G radio technology, different sensors and other devices, as well as modern city planning and new digital services and business concepts related to, for example, security, navigation, smart lighting, weather monitoring, information sharing and advertising. Concrete piloting has started this year in Espoo, Finland. The project will also analyze what are the best practices to build the network, what cost items there are in planning, building and managing the network and how to share the cost of the network.

And what’s the role of Exel Composites?

ML: Exel is already a leading manufacturer of composite antenna radomes and structures to GSM, 3G and 4G base stations. We also manufacture and develop airport approach lighting masts and other special masts to airports worldwide. We have developed leading composite solutions for our customers’ GSM/3G and 4G solutions and we also want to be the partner for next generation solutions and utilize the special features and optimization possibilities of composites in the light poles, among other potential applications.

Lux Turrim 5G project in Finland. © Exel Composites

LuxTurrim5G will be the breakthrough enabler for a digital smart city ecosystem in street level deployments, building versatile technology and service platform utilizing a single flexible 5G network. The solutions related to smart 5G light poles, small cell 5G base stations and related services will be demonstrated and a business base for these products created.

So you see a huge opportunity for the composites industry here?

ML: Without doubt. The current market for composites in global construction is estimated to be around €11.3 billion. In the years up to 2025, it’s estimated that around €160 billion will be invested in the infrastructure for 5G so there’s an opportunity to introduce some innovative solutions with the right materials.

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