Real Wireless team profile

Q&A with Julie Bradford, Head of Techno-Economic Analysis at Real Wireless

1. How does your prior work experience relate to this position? 

Techno-economics is an area that I was probably always destined to go into but never really knew about as an area of expertise until I joined Real Wireless.   

At school, I always enjoyed maths and the sciences but also the business subjects too. That’s why I studied Electronic Engineering with Business Management for my degree – I wanted to combine these two seemingly disparate areas. I can remember on my personal statement for my UCAS application explaining how I wanted to do a degree that would enable me to not just develop clever and innovative technology but that I also wanted to ensure that that technology was useful and commercially viable. I wanted to create technology that had “real” applications and as such I have always found myself at home with the philosophy of Real Wireless. 

Whilst at university, I spent 2 summers at Roke Manor Research and had the privilege of working in the lab which at the time housed the testbed equipment that carried out one of the world’s first UMTS TDD calls – between Roke Manor and Japan. My first graduate position was in the Communications Department of QinetiQ’s Great Malvern site nestled idyllically by the Malvern Hills and with a huge legacy of being the place where ground breaking technologies including Radar were pioneered. Here I focused on signal processing and modem development on software-defined radio platforms. This gave me an appreciation of how different air interfaces work and how this translates to areas such as coverage and capacity – which are crucial for dimensioning wireless networks. 

I then joined the Wireless Technology Practice of PA Consulting. This involved not only a physical move from the West of England to Cambridge in the east but a shift of technical focus from defence communications to public and commercial wireless. The LTE standards were at an early stage when I joined PA and I was fortunate to work on a project for a test equipment vendor looking to develop an LTE product.  This involved a rapid learning curve on cellular communications and the LTE standards – an area further developed on projects assessing the essentiality of patents. 

 At Real Wireless, we say there are three elements to any wireless solution: technology, spectrum, and topology. I like to think that I gained a deep understanding of the physical layer of wireless technology at QinetiQ and PA Consulting and I had exposure to the role of spectrum, with multiple projects for Ofcom at both of these companies. Moving from PA Consulting to become a systems engineer at the small cells’ vendor Airvana, completed my triangle of experience and gave me an appreciation for topology in wireless solutions too. That finally brought me to my role today at Real Wireless, where I have been for the past 12 years.

2. What do you see as the most significant challenges and opportunities facing the wireless industry today? 

The most significant challenge to the wireless industry today is delivering on the promises made by the wireless industry in the past and living up to the heightened user expectations that these generated. There was a lot of hype around the launch of 5G, its triangle of services, and its transformational impact on enterprise customers. This vision is yet to be realised and this has created disappointment amongst wireless users. I think Real Wireless has an important role to play in working with those who want to use wireless in their businesses and helping them understand what solutions are available here and now, and their future ambitions. 

The rollout of public wireless infrastructure efficiently and aesthetically is also an increasing issue. As mobile networks get more complex, more and more equipment are being added to cell sites. Making the transition across to shared infrastructure with minimal equipment at the cell site and the majority of RAN processing more centralised will be difficult but is crucial if wireless is to fit with our growing streetscape and living space expectations.

3. What’s been your most successful/interesting project for RW so far and why? 

 Real Wireless’ involvement in the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 5G NORMA, 5G MoNArch, 5G TOURS, and now 5G Trialsnet projects has been core to giving our team the time and resources to develop real thought leadership in the techno-economic assessment of 5G and beyond 5G networks. Across these projects, we have developed our techno-economic framework and a toolset that has been and continues to be used across many other projects.  

 For example, on 5G-MoNArch we had the opportunity to work with Hamburg Port Authority to understand port operations and 5G use cases that would have a real impact. Based on this interaction, we developed a model to quantify the operational impact of those use cases. We also got the opportunity to work alongside the R&D teams of tier 1 mobile equipment vendors and network operators from across Europe to understand the key components and dimensioning of 5G networks capable of network slicing. We used this knowledge to develop network dimensioning and cost analysis tools whose results could then be brought together to form conclusions on return on investment. 

In our latest European projects, we are also getting to explore options for more localised private networks and their interaction with the wider area public networks. The thought leadership and toolsets developed across these European projects have been directly applicable to Real Wireless projects closer to home here in the UK. These have covered topics ranging from assessing the value of private networks for an airport client to the analysis of network dimensioning and costs of virtualised Open RAN networks under the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) sponsored projects. So, overall, our European projects are great examples of very interesting, cutting-edge projects that are a pleasure to work on but also build capability in Real Wireless and so have a clear lasting legacy.

4. What’s your vision for how wireless technology will benefit users, businesses, and economies in the next five years?

Connectivity and wireless already underpin many of our day-to-day operations and actions. In our conversations with clients, we are seeing businesses realise that wireless connectivity is not just something to leave to the mobile network operators and expect connectivity to just happen but instead that investing in wireless is an important and core part of digitisation and improving their operations. Over the next 5 years, I think we will see an increased uptake of enterprise-grade wireless and, I hope, a real transition to the provision of tailored wireless services as was originally envisaged for 5G. 

I think we will see a step change in the type of content being handled by wireless networks to volumetric data to power augmented reality and more immersive experiences. For me augmented reality is an area of technology that has the potential to make a huge impact across a range of businesses from bringing to life tours in museums to providing remote support to maintenance crews in a port. 

5. What advice would you give to somebody at the start of their career thinking about going into the wireless industry? 

 My advice for anyone at the start of their career thinking about going into wireless would be to definitely pursue that ambition. Wireless technology is constantly evolving as are its uses of it and the business cases behind its deployment. For me, this creates a fantastic mix of not just clever technology, which is fascinating in its own right, but also business and commercial awareness to bring these clever technologies into reality in the most beneficial and cost-effective ways possible. 

 I would also highlight that there are many roles in wireless that you might not know existed but are exactly what you are looking for. This has certainly been the case for me. I had never heard of the term techno-economics before joining Real Wireless but it has been the perfect match for my areas of interest and expertise.