Liverpool’s private 5G network could provide public services “blueprint”

12th August 2020 Sarah Wray

The Liverpool 5G consortium has been awarded £4.3 million (US$5.6 million) to continue developing its own private, independent 5G network for health and social care services.

The programme will trial new 5G applications and business models and aims to reduce digital poverty for vulnerable people by providing free, reliable connectivity for health, social care and education in selected areas of Liverpool. It will also generate best practices to help other cities use private 5G networks for public services.

The use of private 5G networks – advanced non-public or local area networks (LAN) which use 5G technologies to deliver dedicated connectivity – is growing in several enterprise sectors due to the flexibility, reliability, control and security they offer.

The £7.2 million Connecting Health and Social Care project will build on the previous 5G Health and Social Care Testbed in Liverpool. The 5G mesh network uses existing CCTV fibre and equipment erected on street furniture like lampposts. The latest initiative will increase the area covered, upgrade the mmWave nodes, integrate small cell technology and trial a range of new use cases, including supporting a medical-grade device to manage and monitor health conditions remotely, an app that teaches anxiety reduction techniques, a remote GP triaging service and wound care.

The funding is provided through the 5G Create competition, run by the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) as part of its 5G Testbed and Trials Programme.

The Liverpool 5G team, which brings together the public and private sectors and academia, is led by the University of Liverpool with partners Liverpool City Council, Blu Wireless Technology, Broadway Partners, Liverpool John Moores University, CGA Simulation, Docobo, NHS Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group and Merseycare NHS Foundation Trust.

Ann Williams, Liverpool City Council’s Commissioning & Contracts Manager for Adult Social Care, said: “The recent response to COVID-19 has demonstrated the need for increased use of remote health and social care services. Through this project, we will ensure that services are available to those in need, removing the barriers caused by lack of affordable connectivity.”

Private 5G for public benefits

The use case of monitoring wounds is one example which could showcase how 5G can deliver new benefits, Williams told Cities Today.

Leg ulcers have previously been monitored with wearable devices over 4G but the photos weren’t clear enough. The programme will test whether ‘smart dressings’ can deliver higher-definition images using 5G.

It will also explore using a Docobo telehealth device with 5G. “[These are] already being used at scale on 4G,” said Williams. “If we go to 5G there are far more things we can do. There are very few dedicated 5G devices out there.”

Williams noted that the private 5G network approach is important to ensure reliability for critical applications.

“Mobile operators struggle to reach the service level agreements required for healthcare,” she commented. “You do not want your broadband to go down if you’re being monitored for a heart condition and then to have a heart attack while you’re waiting to be put back online. We want to run our own company as we found [during] the first trial that we could get a much quicker response when things go wrong.”

She added: “Also, we’ll only be paying for the cost of running the network, not per item of data. At the moment, health and social care [services] pay a lot in SIM cards, and the data costs quite a bit. Given post-COVID public sector finances, we think that this is important.”

The participants will also explore sustainable business models.

The Connecting Health and Social Care project will run until March 2022 and aims to “develop a blueprint for the use of private 5G networks in delivering public services”.  It will be managed by Liverpool City Region’s eHealth Cluster with further support from Telet Research (NI), AIMES Management Services and Real Wireless.

5G Create

Other initiatives awarded funding through 5G Create include a trial of AI-controlled traffic lights to reduce pollution and congestion in Manchester and a programme to explore the potential for remote music festivals using 5G, which will be tested at Brighton Dome.

A project in Preston will evaluate the use of 5G to reduce costs in aerospace manufacturing and BT Sport will examine the role of 5G and virtual reality in watching live sports. Another trial at the Nissan car factory in Sunderland will look at 5G’s ability to boost productivity through use of autonomous trucks.

Image:  Nils Ackermann

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