Government puts £25m into six 5G test bed projects

Written by Sam Trendall on 12 March 2018 in News

Schemes across the UK looking at 5G use cases including farming, tourism, and transport receive funding from government scheme

The government is to invest £25m across six projects across the UK aimed at testing 5G networks.

The sextet of schemes were picked following a competitive process in which a number of SMEs, education establishments, and local authorities submitted bids for grant funding. The chosen proposals will test 5G technology across a number of use cases in consumer, public-service, and business settings. 

The six winning projects are:

5G RuralFirst

Lead organisation: Cisco, supported by Agri-EPI Centre, the University of Strathclyde, and the BBC
Grant: £4.3M
Location: Orkney Islands, Shropshire, Somerset

This project will test the use of “spectrum-sharing strategies” to help rural areas benefit from 5G connectivity. It will also explore opportunities in the world of “smart farming” – deploying IoT devices in agriculture and other rural industries.

5G Smart Tourism

Lead organisation: West of England Combined Authority, supported by the BBC, Aardman, and the University of Bristol
Grant: £5m
Location: Bath and Bristol

Using 5G to offer tourists “enhanced visual experiences” via augmented and virtual reality technologies is the aim of this project. Visitors to attractions including the Roman Baths and Bristol Millennium Square will be offered AR and VR content provided by the BBC and animation studio Aardman.

Worcestershire 5G Consortium

Lead Organisation: Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership, supported by Worcestershire County Council, the University of Surrey, Malvern Hills Science Park, AWTG, Huawei, O2, BT, Yamazaki Mazak, Bosch
Grant: £4.8m
Location: Worcestershire

This scheme “will focus on ways to increase industrial productivity through preventative and assisted maintenance using robotics, big-data analytics and AR over 5G”. The county’s entrepreneurs will have the chance to test 5G technologies in a tech accelerator located at the Malvern Hills Science Park.

Liverpool 5G Testbed

Lead organisation: Sensor City, supported by various local businesses, NHS entities, and university researchers
Grant: £3.5m
Location: Liverpool

A “leading UK 5G technology vendor” will take part in this project, which has been funded for an initial one-year term. The scheme will deploy various technologies – including 5G networks, IoT, and virtual reality – in deprived areas of the city, with the aim of closing “the digital divide”.  The project will also aim to improve support for patients, and help reduce loneliness among elderly people.

AutoAir: 5G Testbed for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles

Lead organisation: Airspan Communications, supported by Millbrook, Dense Air and McLaren Applied Technologies
Grant: £4.1m
Location: Bedford

The Millbrook vehicle testing site in Bedford will house this initiative, which will look at how 5G networks can be used in road and rail transport. It will particularly examine the technology’s use in the autonomous vehicles, which the government said “require more network bandwidth than is available currently”.

5G Rural Integrated Testbed

Lead organisation: Quickline Communications, supported by 5GRIT 
Grant: £2.1m
Location: Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire, and Monmouthshire

This is another scheme aimed at promoting connectivity in rural areas throughout the seven participating counties via the use of a shared-spectrum set-up. The project will look at how 5G can be used in smart agriculture and tourism, including augmented reality apps for visitors.

The money put into in these schemes is part of the £1bn being invested via the government’s Digital Strategy, which was unveiled a year ago.

Margot James, minister of state for digital and the creative industries, said: “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. The groundbreaking projects announced today will help to unlock 5G and ensure the benefits of this new technology are felt across the economy and wider society.” 

5G is the fifth generation of mobile network, and is intended to provide much greater speed and capacity than the incumbent 4G network. This should mean that uses such as IoT and virtual reality – that demand too much bandwidth for a 4G network to cope with – will become much more feasible.

Some 5G fixed-wireless access networks are expected to begin rolling out next year, with public mobile networks starting to follow in 2020, with major cities across the world likely to be first to benefit. In the two years following that, the technology will become increasingly common before eventually becoming the norm for all mobile users in the UK.

About the author

Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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