Lara Moloney, Head of Scotland 5G Connect reports, “Working with our founding partners at the University of Strathclyde, University of Glasgow and Scottish Futures Trust, we’re raising awareness of 5G and its capabilities; providing insights where 5G has supported businesses; and offering access to demonstration and development environments via our network of private 5G testbeds.”
As part of this initiative, The Centre launched the S5GConnect programme with the rollout of hubs across Scotland. Each tailored to its region with a focus on supporting relevant sectors.
Currently it has three hubs in place: Dumfries, Dundee and Forth Valley.
The Dumfries hub is a collaboration between South of Scotland Enterprise and the Crichton Trust, focusing on the agri-tech and healthcare sectors in the context of their rural economy. At the physical launch of the hub, a 5G testbed was installed to demonstrate guests communicating with a clinician in London through 3D hologram. Scotland 5GConnect advises on potential business opportunities and scopes out benefits of a 5g network. This allows communities not served by current providers to consider options for future growth.
S5GConnect’s core priority is to engage with local businesses to give them a better understanding of how 5G can transform their enterprise. Moloney continues, “The businesses often have a lightbulb moment where they see how a challenge could be approached to save time or money. Others see the opportunities the capability can bring for a long-term competitive advantage. Companies can test their products within our private testbed environment, and we provide technical support free of charge. We are also enabling use cases for organisations to test private 5G networks on their site and ensure they have a proof of concept to back their business case for future investment.”
The hub network offers a range of private 5G environments, from a Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (NDAC) in Dumfries, to an Ericsson Industry Connect environment. They aim to provide a range of capabilities and capacities so small and medium-sized businesses can test in the most suitable environment for their service or product. It will also be introducing a pop up 5G network option shortly for applications in rural environments, enabling businesses to take the connectivity out of the testbed walls. S5GConnect also has a range of devices to connect to the network available, which is all supported by Mobile (Multi-Access) Edge Compute (MEC) to facilitate the data loads.
Alongside the S5GConnect programme, the Centre is also working on other projects which are already showing an impressive return on investment.
The 5G urban testbed, based at the University of Glasgow, is bringing smart technology into the lives of students and staff. Most recently, the urban project team built a robotic arm which uses a haptic feedback controller, allowing users to feel senses of touch, motion and pressure. The project has paid dividends - already delivering a significant return on the Centre’s investment of £1.6 million, netting more than a 6-fold return to date and provides a blueprint to develop new commercial opportunities.
Last year, the University of Strathclyde’s StrathSDR team engineered a world first stand-alone private network for sports broadcasting using shared spectrum in the 3.8 to 4.2 GHz, bringing live segments to a worldwide audience from a 5G handheld camera at the Monster Energy British Grand Prix. The Scotland 5G Centre is keen to look for further opportunities to test the technology with live broadcasting.
Moloney reflects on the lessons S5GConnect has learnt form the project: “During the 6 months I have been in the role, the process to deploy new 5G testbeds has positively developed. Being too ambitious with consortiums before the hub is established can stall the work before it even begins. Now we have an approach to set up the 5G environment in a more streamlined manner, still involving stakeholders, but bringing the network in as the hub itself has the resources and capability to manage the activity. We currently have one live with five to be installed this year, and every time we go through the process we learn something new.”
The technology is always evolving, with access to devices and configuration requirements evolving too. This means that projects have to ensure the activities at each phase of work are reviewed to see what can be done better.
Moloney adds, “We wouldn’t be able to do this without our amazing technical advisors, project management team and all of the dedicated Business Engagement Managers. We are quite a small team with big ambitions, so every day I am thankful to have their support and commitment as they really are what keeps driving each project forward.”