Private nets with Voda, Industry 4.0 with Ford, Robin Hood lives – UK’s £35m 5G trials
The UK government has announced the winners of a £35 million funding pot for rural and industrial 5G projects, alongside a new $30 million 5G development competition for the media, gaming, logistics, and tourism sectors. Projects include private networking with Vodafone, Industry 4.0 with Ford, neutral hosting with Cisco, and a virtual reality scheme to bring Robin Hood back from the dead.
The new investments are part of a £200 million government fund for 5G testbeds in the UK, geared towards industry and rural communitues. The trials come under the governments digital ‘supply chain review’, which has seen so-called ‘high-risk vendors’ excluded from critical UK infrastructure.
Various local authorities, public service providers, and academic institutions are involved in the projects, alongside a number of technology vendors and telecoms familiars, also including Federated Wireless, Siemens, Telefonica, Three, and Zeetta Networks. Chinese vendor Huawei, the most high-profile of high-risk vendors in UK government eyes, is not involved.
In total, £30 million is going on seven rural 5G projects and £5 million is going on two industrial 5G projects.
The twin industrial projects are for 5G-enabled manufacturing using private 5G networks. The first, called 5G Enabled Manufacture (5GEM) and awarded £1.9 million, will focus on two sites, each equipped by Vodafone with private 5G networking, belonging to car maker Ford in Essex and welding association TWI in Cambridge.
Ford will focus on the connectivity of welding processes, used in the manufacture of electric vehicles. TWI will support Vacuum Furnace Engineering in connecting their heat treatment equipment.
Chris White, 5GEM project lead at Ford, said: “Connecting today’s shopfloor requires significant time and investment. The technology used is inflexible and bespoke. It can often be viewed as the limiting factor in reconfiguring and deploying reliable manufacturing systems.
“5G presents the opportunity to transform the speed of launch and flexibility of present manufacturing facilities, moving us towards tomorrow’s factories with mobile assets, remote computing, remote expert support and artificial intelligence.
“We will build two demonstrators to accelerate this transformation within the UK and beyond. These test beds will be an excellent environment for our partners to resolve the issues around making this technology shop floor ready and supporting the fourth industrial revolution.”
The second Industry 4.0 project, called 5G ENCODE and awarded £3.8 million, is headed by Zetta Networks. A consortium of 10 other companies – including Telefonica, Siemens, Toshiba, Solvay, and Baker Hughes – is also involved. It will also look at private industrial 5G networks for manufacturing.
5G ENCODE will investigate three key industrial 5G use cases to improve productivity and effectiveness of composite design and manufacture: interactive augmented reality (AR); asset tracking across multiple sites and locations; and industrial system management.
Vassilis Seferidis, chief executive at Zeetta Networks, said: “Zeetta has a strong track record of delivering 5G solutions based on our network splicing and slicing technology which is a key enabler in delivering multi-domain orchestration across public and private networks for a seamless and customised delivery of 5G services.
“The ability to dynamically slice and dice the resources of the network according to the demands of users and applications is the fundamental difference between 5G and older technologies and it is expected to play a transformational role in improving industrial productivity.
The seven rural 5G projects – five in England, one in Wales, one in Scotland – are also geared towards industrial change, and variously to improving police services, health services, sea and air rescue, flood monitoring, farming and agriculture, and tourism.
From a tech perspective, the rural 5G projects will explore immersive AR and VR, IoT sensor applications, neutral host cellular networks, shared and local spectrum licencing, network “splicing and slicing”, and combined terrestrial and satellite connectivity.
Of the seven rural projects, the Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) testbed, awarded a little over £4.4 million, will build small mobile phone networks in areas that have no mobile coverage, and seek to bring the public, private and community sectors together. The project is led by internet service provider Quickline Communications, in conjunction with North Yorkshire County Council, two universities, and four small businesses.
West Mercia Rural 5G, awarded £3.3 million, focuses on health and social care applications, and involves Worcestershire County Council and local NHS organisations, alongside Airband and Three on the network side. The University of Worcester, University Centre Shrewsbury, and West Midlands Academic Health Science Network are providing their expert support across the project.
In Nottingham, 5G will be used to bring the story of Robin Hood to life for tourists with 5G-based AR and VR applications, and also enable “robotic environmental management and non-intrusive live monitoring” of Sherwood Forest.
The Multi Operator Neutral Host (MONeH) Consortium, awarded about £2.4 million, aims to demonstrate how multi-operator, neutral host cellular networks using small cells can be provide multiple user slices, serving different customer groups. Work will take place in Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire, and be led by Telet Research, CH4LKE Mobile, and Associated Networks.
The 5G RuralDorset project has received £4.3 million, and will exploit 5G to police coastal areas. Terrestrial and satellite connectivity will be deployed. The project will also pilot agricultural tech to track crop growth, monitor livestock and reduce water pollution. A Dorset Innovation Park will be set up for third-party developers to try out and join up.
Another £5 million is going on a project called 5G New Thinking, which will look at provision of wireless connectivity using the shared spectrum and local spectrum licencing options announced by Ofcom in July 2019. Cisco is involved, as well as Federated Wireless.
The project will work to create facilities and tools for spectrum sharing and monitoring, neutral hosting, partnerships and enterprise engagement models with operators. In its first stage the project will create models, strategies and use case demonstrators on the Orkney Islands network. It will also work with communities and councils in the England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
5G New Thinking extends Cisco’s involvement in the UK’s 5G testbeds, having worked already on 5G RuralFirst based in Orkney, Somerset, and Shropshire. Cisco exec Dez O’ Connor said: “With key ingredients of spectrum, cloud and core, backhaul, and community engagement, the project will look at how it can help to address some of the most pressing technology challenges to improve connectivity across rural and ultra-rural areas.”
The same sum (£5 million) has been awarded to a smart tourism and farming project, called Connected Communities in the Rural Economy (CoCoRE), in Monmouthshire and Blaenau Gwent in Wales. 5G-based AI and IoT technologies will be put in place, the government said.