The UK’s Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden has announced a £65 million package for 5G programmes, comprising £35 million from the rural and industrial 5G competition (already announced), and a further £30 million from a new open competition – 5G Create. This forms part of the UK government’s £200 million investment in testbeds and trials across the UK to explore new ways that 5G can boost business growth and productivity, improve people’s lives in rural areas and maximise the productivity benefits of new technologies.
The newly-announced 5G Create programme will focus on how 5G can deliver opportunities in industries including film, TV, video games, logistics and tourism – from enabling remote production to supporting the expansion of esports.
£30 million has been awarded by UK government to seven 5G research and development projects – five in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland (with plans to expand into Northern Ireland). Test sites will be set up in Yorkshire, Gwent, Monmouthshire, Orkney, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Dorset, Shropshire and Worcestershire.
Tourism is set to be boosted in Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest, as cutting-edge apps are deployed to transform the visitor experience. Visitors will be able to see Robin Hood telling the history of the ancient forest via virtual and augmented reality on 5G networks as part of the 5G Connected Forest programme. New robotic environmental management will also be tested alongside live monitoring of the health of Sherwood Forest to preserve the site for future generations. (see also UK focus: superconnected Nottinghamshire is open for business)
In Dorset funding will go to 5G trials in air and sea search-and-rescue to help save lives using terrestrial and satellite connectivity. The 5G RuralDorset project will also trial 5G connectivity for remote farms to track crop growth, monitor livestock and reduce water pollution. Other projects in this programme include providing commercial connectivity on the Lulworth Estate and festival site to explore social and commercial uses from tourism, education and safety. As well as support for a 5G innovation hub in Dorset Innovation Park to enable existing and new businesses to test and develop 5G products and services collaboratively and securely.
The Orkney Islands, as well as other parts of Scotland and Northern Ireland are set to benefit from the 5G New Thinking project, which will look at the provision of mobile connectivity primarily using the shared spectrum and local spectrum licencing options announced by Ofcom (July 2019). The project will develop a community toolkit to allow local co-operatives to create new networks for rural connectivity. The project will deliver facilities and tools for spectrum sharing and monitoring, neutral hosting, partnerships and B2B engagement models with operators. This project will involve Cisco, the University of Strathclyde, BBC R&D, CloudNet IT Solutions, Federated Wireless, Pure Leapfrog and the Scotland 5G Centre.
Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent in Wales have gained support for Connected Communities in the Rural Economy (CoCoRE), which will deliver ‘immersive tourism’ and ‘farming security’, whilst leveraging related technologies such as AI, IoT and cyber security as part of an innovation platform.
Wiltshire will get MONeH (Multi Operator Neutral Host), which is being led by Telet Research, CH4LKE Mobile and Associated Networks, and aims to demonstrate how multi-operator, neutral host cellular networks based on small cell technology can be used to serve rural areas cost-effectively. Initial deployments will be in the Chalke Valley (South West Wiltshire), Preston Bissett (Buckinghamshire) and Lucknam Park (near Bath). The deployments will utilise unused mobile spectrum, using the new Ofcom-issued Local Access licensing procedures.
West Mercia Rural 5G (Shropshire and Worcestershire) will explore infrastructure challenges when planning, building and operating a rural 5G network and look at how 5G can enhance services for the benefit of residents, particularly researching 5G enabled health and social care applications. Led by Worcestershire County Council, key partners on the network side are Airband and Three, who will work with local NHS organisations, Worcestershire County Council and Shropshire Council, the University of Worcester, University Centre Shrewsbury, and West Midlands Academic Health Science Network.
North Yorkshire will benefit from the Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) project, which will support the development of future rural connectivity in the county by developing new technologies, apps and services tailored for rural areas. These will focus on tourism, mental health, coverage for emergency services and environmental management. The project will build small mobile phone networks in areas that have no mobile coverage. This project is being led by Quickline Communications, North Yorkshire County Council, York and Lancaster universities and four small businesses. (see Quickline to boost connectivity in Yorkshire)
More than £5 million of funding will also be awarded to two industrial projects, led by Ford Motor Company and Zeetta Networks, to test the benefits of using 5G to boost productivity in the manufacturing sector.
Zeetta will lead 5G-ENCODE, based at Bristol’s National Composites Centre, where it will test how 5G can improve the design and manufacturing of composite materials, including through augmented reality and the remote monitoring of multiple factories at once. Ten companies will work on this project, including Telefonica, Siemens, Toshiba, Solvay and Baker Hughes. Zeetta will deploy its multi-domain orchestration technology based on 5G network splicing and slicing. The project will examine new business models for private mobile networks in the manufacturing sector and will investigate three key industrial 5G use cases: interactive augmented reality (AR); asset tracking across multiple sites and locations; and industrial system management.
Vodafone Business and Ford will lead a consortium (5GEM) trialling how 5G mobile private networks can improve the manufacture of electric vehicles at two sites in Essex and Cambridge. The project will see two private networks installed in Ford’s Dunton facility and TWI Cambridge. Ford will focus on the connectivity of welding processes, used in the manufacture of electric vehicles; while TWI will support Vacuum Furnace Engineering in connecting their heat treatment equipment. ATS, TM Forum, HSSMI and Lancaster University are joining the consortium to work on associated challenges such as cybersecurity, scale-up, standards, machine learning and developing the 5G technology for an industrial environment.
It is heartening to see the UK government supporting innovation projects that are not only outside London and the South East, but also that involve a far wider range of stakeholders – including those with disruptive approaches, and much smaller companies. The trick will be whether these projects will turn into sustainable deployments in the longer term once the funding runs out.