UK government announces six 5G testbeds as part of its Digital Strategy commitment
- £25m awarded to new 5G projects on the first anniversary of the UK’s Digital Strategy
- Aim is to pave the way for a future rollout of 5G technology in the UK
- The six projects are led by SMEs, universities and local authorities
- Public and private sector partnership to make UK “a world leader in 5G”
As part of the UK government’s £1 billion commitment to its Digital Strategy programme to keep Britain at the forefront of communications technology, six 5G-related projects have received total funding of £25 million. They will be expected to test 5G across a range of applications, including smart farming with drones, using IoT to improve healthcare in the home, increasing manufacturing productivity and maximising the future benefits of self-driving cars.
“One year on from the Digital Strategy, we are delivering on our commitments to create a Britain fit for the future, with a thriving digital economy that works for everyone,” said Margot James, Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, DCMS. “The ground-breaking projects announced today will help to unlock 5G and ensure the benefits of this new technology are felt across the economy and wider society.”
Each testbed will receive between £2 million and £5 million in government grants, as part of a total investment of £41 million from private sector and other public sector funding, to explore the business applications of 5G technologies.
“The Phase 1 projects are very timely as they will leverage on our innovation and provide the much needed expansion into exciting applications and a wider geography,” said Professor Mischa Dohler, Director of the Centre for Telecommunications Research, King’s College London. “It will be paramount for the UK to ensure that all these assets will be connected to ensure scale and competitiveness.”
The 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey is leading the £16 million collaborative Hub1 5G project for DCMS, with the University of Bristol and King’s College London, as part of a larger four-year, £200 million DCMS programme.
“The 5GIC is extremely pleased and proud to have been able to play a leading part in in supporting the DCMS UK 5G testbeds and trials programme,” said Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Founder and Director of 5GIC and leader of 5GUK Networks. “5G represents a fundamental transformation of the role that mobile technology plays in society, delivering rich new services in sectors such as finance, transport, retail and health. It will drive trillions of dollars of additional activity through the world digital economy and the DCMS programme will ensure that the UK stays at the forefront of this exciting global race.”
The six winning projects in the 5G Trials and Testbeds scheme are:
Led by Cisco and lead partner University of Strathclyde, the project will deliver testbeds and trials to exploit 5G benefits for rural communities and industries like agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities, to address the challenges of and build the business case for 5G rural deploymen. Based primarily on the Orkney Islands, and in the farmlands of Shropshire and Somerset, the project will integrate spectrum sharing strategies for 5G; bringing connectivity to rural communities, enabling smart farming in partnership with Agri-Epi Centre – including drones, autonomous farm vehicles and remote veterinary inspections.
“Digital economies rely on connectivity so the UK can’t sit and wait,” said Scot Gardner, Chief Executive of Cisco UK & Ireland. “We need to be trialling now, understanding what 5G can do right across the UK.”
5G Smart Tourism
This testbed, led by the West of England Combined Authority, will focus on delivering enhanced visual experiences for tourists using Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technology in major attractions in Bath and Bristol, including the Roman Baths. Content and technology developments will be provided by the BBC and Aardman with support from the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab. It will demonstrate self-provision of 5G and WiFi as well as mmWave backhaul.
“Delivering new kinds of experiences in new ways for our audiences is a priority for the BBC,” said Professor Graham Thomas of BBC Research & Development. “This project is an excellent way to trial ways of doing this using AR and VR technology through 5G.”
Worcestershire 5G Consortium
A team of 5G and Industry 4.0 experts (including 5GIC, AWTG, Huawei, O2 and BT) will lead this project, working with Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership to focus on ways to increase industrial productivity through preventative and assisted maintenance using robotics, big data analytics and AR over 5G. It will also have a cyber security aspect, with QinetiQ providing assurances on the ‘security by design’ of 5G and IoT technology.
“At a time of increasing global competition for trade and investment, we are confident that we can act as a catalyst for technological innovation in the wider Midlands Engine and nationally,” said Mark Stansfeld, Chair of Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and 5G lead for Midlands Engine. “This highlights the huge ambition of Worcestershire’s innovative public and private sector, with key Worcestershire employers leading the way in Industry 4.0.”
Liverpool 5G Testbed
Sensor City will lead a consortium made up of public sector health suppliers, the NHS, university researchers, local SMEs and a (strangely as yet unspecified) UK 5G technology vendor. The project will use open source 5G networks, artificial intelligence, VR and IoT deployed across deprived communities in the Liverpool City Region test bed. The consortium will use this technology to attempt to reduce the digital divide, while measuring the impact on patient monitoring and support.
“A successful demonstration of a 5G testbed in health and social care will see the development of new, innovative and disruptive technologies that will help to bridge the digital divide in the UK, especially in deprived communities,” said Professor Joe Spencer of the University of Liverpool. “5G will not only enable the development of new cost-effective products and services to address real needs and demand, but also bring huge social and economic benefits for the most vulnerable in society, while reducing the demand on hospital-based services.”
AutoAir aims to make 5G technologies available for the validation and development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) at the UK’s premiere vehicle proving ground at Millbrook. Fast travel speeds complicate cell-tower handoff, and autonomous vehicles will require more network bandwidth than is available currently. It will also investigate how these 5G connectivity solutions could be transferable to both road and rail transportation. It is based on the development of 5G small cells operating in both licensed sub-6GHz and mmWave bands on a shared ‘neutral host’ platform which allows multiple public and private 5G operators to simultaneously use the same infrastructure via network slicing.
“Being part of the AutoAir 5G NR Consortium reinforces our commitment to accelerating the UK’s mobility challenge of the future, as well as pushing performance, improving reliability and providing progress beyond today’s expectations,” said Dick Glover, Chief Executive, McLaren Applied Technologies.
5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT)
5GRIT will trial innovative applications of 5G technology across a range of rural applications – such as smart agriculture, tourism and connecting poorly-served communities, using shared spectrum in the TV bands and a mix of local ISPs and self-provision. The aim is to ultimately make high quality connectivity available across Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Monmouthshire. The consortium will develop 5G-ready AR apps for tourists and investigate how high-bandwidth wireless connectivity can increase food production in farming.
“We feel that 5G can unlock the potential of rural areas through better connections for residents, businesses, farmers and visitors,” said Steve Jagger, Managing Director of Quickline Communications.
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