Connected social care and the ‘spirit of 5G’ – all about Liverpool’s £7m smart-city 5G win
The city of Liverpool has just won a £4.3 million fund, topped-up to £7.15 million, from the UK government to build a private 5G network for local health and social care services, and other public bodies.
The project will establish a private millimeter wave (mmWave) 5G network at 60 GHz, as its architectural highlight. But, “in the spirit of 5G”, it will also make use of BLE, LoRaWAN, and Wi-Fi in the sensor network, and fibre for the backhaul.
The new investment has been ‘match-funded’ by private enterprises engaged in the project to take the total project value to £7.15 million. It follows on from a previous £7.2 million 5G Testbeds and Trials programme (5GTT) project in Liverpool, also around 5G for social care; the new network will form an extension of the old one.
The new £7.15 million 5G Create project is part of the UK government’s latest round of 5GTT funding, worth £30 million, and covering six separate projects. The value of the government-aided 5GTT regime has now passed £200 million, in total.
The consortium handling the 5G Create project, as part of the local 5GTT works, includes the University of Liverpool, UK 5G kit vendor BluWireless, and small UK mobile operator Broadway Partners, plus a group of local healthcare bodies. They will build a private 5G network in selected areas of the city to provide affordable connectivity for remote health and social care.
The project – which has the full title, 5G Create: Connecting Health and Social Care – will also seek to establish a blueprint for the use of private 5G networks in delivering public services.
It will use open access 5G infrastructure and network solutions; two other new 5GTT engagements – the 5G Edge-XR trial of AR and VR for sports services, led by BT, and a new 5G Smart Junctions project around intelligent transport systems in Manchester – will use the same.
The national government has a stated aim to open up UK telecoms supply chains, amid a noisy backdrop of economic intrigue involving Chinese kit makers such as Huawei.
The UK government department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has said the project will stimulate the development of low-cost 5G technology, and also improve the country’s resilience against Covid-style pandemics, and reduce inequality in terms of access to health and social care. It will provide “safe, free, and accessible” connectivity to health and social care services, and also local education services.
The new 5G network builds on the previous 5G health and social care testbed in the inner-city Kensington area of Liverpool, built with the previous £7.2 million 5GTT funding allocation. The new funds will go to increase the area covered, upgrade the existing mmWave nodes, integrate small cell technology, and trial a range of new use cases.
A press statement says 5G will be used to support “a medical grade device to manage and monitor health conditions remotely, an app that teaches anxiety reduction techniques, a remote GP triaging service, wound care, and management and sensor technology.”
But in terms of connectivity technologies, and in accordance with the new trend for hybrid IoT and the broader extra-curricular technological definition of 5G, there is more to the private 5G implementation than just 5G base stations and 5G user devices.
At access level, 5G will be used at high millimeter wave (mmWave) frequencies, at 60 GHz, alongside non-cellular low-power wide-area (LPWA) technology LoRaWAN, using license-free sub-gigahertz bands, whether at 433 MHz or 868 MHz. Mesh networking, mostly with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) at 2.4 GHz, will also be used to stitch together sensing devices in local areas.
The backhaul infrastructure will combine a 60GHz mmWave 5G mesh networking and fibre connectivity, including parts of the city’s existing publicly owned fibre network. (An overview of the new 5G setup, from consortium member BluWireless, can be seen in the video below.) James Body, member of the Liverpool 5G team and chief executive at Telet Research, said dedicated mmWave 5G or fibre will be deployed to community and care-related buildings “where there is a concentration in demand”.
Body commented: “The project will roll out 3GPP 5G private network coverage throughout the ward using a small-cell RAN. This network will serve mostly interactive devices for remote consultation, assistance with medication, video calling and standard mobile devices used by visiting health-care professionals – still using the private network within the ward.
He added: “Our goal, in the spirit of 5G, is to provide the most appropriate access technology for the application. 3GPP 5G and LoRa will be used for user access to most user devices and sensors. We will include BLE indoors where this is demanded by applications. The back-haul network will make use of a combination of 60GHz mmWave mesh and fibre.”
The new infrastructure will deliver latency below 10ms between interactive end user devices, mostly tablets and smartphones, and the Liverpool-based data-centre hosting our applications. “We do not foresee this restricting the performance of any of our planned applications,” he said. IoT sensors will be connected to the 5G network, where hardware support is available, or via BLE, LoRaWAN, or Wi-Fi gateways to the 5G network for backhaul connectivity.
Asked whether latency, bandwidth, device volumes, or reliability is the key metric for social care use cases, Body suggested cost is the king measure.
He said: “The cost of supporting each device and the cost of bandwidth consumed are key for the social care use case as is the service level – not just reliability itself but the continuous monitoring and alerting services that allow care providers to respond appropriately should problems arise. The consistent, symmetrical bandwidth delivered by a 5G small-cell network is key to the adoption of remote consultation where good quality video is essential.”
A data centre in the downtown Fairfield area of the city, run by commercial data centre provider AIMES, will run far-edge processing, and host applications served over a “direct, private, high capacity” fibre and multi-radio access technology wireless network. Network and application function virtualisation will be managed from the data centre, and in multi-access edge compute (MEC) functions in the small cell cites.
Body said most of the latency to user devices is determined by the radio access network. “Some applications may pre-process data at the very edge, for the sake of privacy, for example,” he added. Capacity and latency will be sufficient for any of the scheduled applications, he said.
No mobile operators are directly involved. Body commented: “The project’s private 3GPP 5G network will be operated by Telet Research with the usual technical capabilities for inter-working with mobile network operators, subject to commercial terms.”
The consortium handling the project is led by the University of Liverpool, with Liverpool City Council, Blu Wireless, Broadway Partners, Liverpool John Moores University, CGA Simulation, Docobo, NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group, and Merseycare NHS Foundation Trust listed as partners.