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Leeds plans for 5G public service pilots



City council leads effort to explore potential of the mobile network technology, using standards for systems, protocols and open data

Leeds City Council is laying the ground for a series of 5G pilots that will include tests on how new public services could be developed with the mobile network technology.

Chief executive Tom Riordan has highlighted the plan in a LinkedIn post, and the council has run an event to inform possible partners.

According to a strategy document published by the council, it is planning to work with members of the GSMA association of mobile operators to try out uses of the technology in line with its smart city strategy. This will involve making the infrastructure available to investors who want to try out new technology and data projects, and working with public and private sector partners.

The work will be based on some city-wide standards around systems, protocols and open data, and open up access to the majority of Leeds’ street furniture and buildings for the installation of the infrastructure.

The council is also looking at the possibility of joining with partners as ‘anchors’ in aggregated network provision.

Early projects

Some of the initial project ideas are for monitoring air quality, developing an end-to-end journey planning template, and connecting up the digital health and care workforce. An advantage of 5G for the latter could be in enabling simultaneous language translation to help people with poor English.

Dylan Roberts, the council’s chief digital and information officer, said the pilot is one of a number by local councils aimed at helping the DCMS understand the issues involved, and that there is likely to be a significant public service element.

“As well as having 5G in the city infrastructure it potentially has strong applications from a healthcare perspective and for providing video consultations.

“You can do a lot with 4G, but the difference with 5G comes especially in city centres, where you can have thousands of devices connected at the same time to supply real time data. A lot of the potential applications for 5G are going to be for use in the future.”

He highlighted the support for autonomous vehicles, which will not be able to make decisions on their movements autonomously but would have to receive a steady stream of real time data. 5G could enable this to an extent not possible with 4G.

Roberts added that it would only work to its full potential if the local core network to which it connects is better quality than exists in many UK cities. This is going to need a continuation of the investment into fibre broadband.

Local advantages

Leeds is well placed for 5G pilots due its city centre data hub – provided by business communications company aql – and the IX Leeds internet exchange point. This makes it possible for multiple providers to connect and peer with each other, and could potentially support the throughput of data traffic to a range of service providers. It is also plugged into the northern hub for the Janet research and education broadband network.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is running a 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, aimed at accelerating the take up of the technology around the UK.

It has been encouraging groups across the public sector to join up and includes plans for a funding competition to support projects to run over 2018-19.

Image by Tim Green, CC BY 2.0 through flickr

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