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Liverpool 5G Create becomes independent digital public service provider

The quality of Mersey is not strained in mobile healthcare as ground-breaking next-gen network-based public health project takes advantage of digital disruption with mobile network operator’s provision capability to make revolutionary step

Almost three years into the health, social care and education project, Liverpool 5G Create is claiming to have ripped up the rule book so that local communities can access digitised public services, even if they can’t afford a reliable internet connection.

The next step in the next-generation trailblazing project – funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) £200m 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme – will see the creation of a private, independent 5G network in and around the Kensington area of the city, combining complementary technologies and using unlicensed spectrum. This means the team has the capability to run a 5G-supported public sector network independently.

The Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care Testbed began operation in April 2018, and the Liverpool 5G Create: Connecting Health and Social Care project, announced in August 2020, set out to develop a private, independent 5G network for health and social care services in selected areas of the city.

Liverpool 5G Create 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. The project will be managed and supported by the eHealth Cluster with further services supplied by Telet Research (NI), AIMES Management Services and Real Wireless.

The 5G network in Liverpool is said to be unique, as a hybrid 5G small cell public sector network of this scale has not been attempted before. 5G-supported remote GP consultations, online wound management, a haptic (remote hug) shirt, care homes sensors, an anti-anxiety app for children under eight, and support for children learning at home during the Covid 19 pandemic are among the technologies being trialled by the community. The 5G connection to use these technologies is provided free to the community for the course of the project.

The technologies supported by Liverpool 5G’s network are interactive, which means the signal leaving the devices needs to be as strong as the incoming (down link) signal. Traditional 5G mobile networks offer a high-speed downlink, via a 5G base station.

Liverpool 5G’s network employs 5G small cells, deployed on a mesh network that relies on the proximity of ‘line of sight’ to work efficiently. This is said to be a plus for supporting the kind of public sector technologies the project delivers, which need a power source that delivers the same power as a handset to work efficiently.

A traditional 5G base station wouldn’t be the most effective way to deliver the 5G to the project’s technologies in people’s homes, especially in a dense, urban environment like Kensington. This was another reason for developing a new business model for an agile network that doesn’t require a base station.

“The upgrades we’re currently making to our bespoke, 5G ‘network of networks’ means we can offer the same technical capabilities as more commercially orientated organisations, but can [also] be more personally responsive to issues arising from people’s care issues”
Andrew Miles, Liverpool 5G and Telet Research

The network is designed to reduce digital poverty for vulnerable people in need, providing safe, free and accessible connectivity to services including health, social care and education. The project looked to increase the area covered, upgrade existing mmWave nodes, integrate small cell technology and trial a range of new use cases in health and social care. But the team stressed that its determination to bring affordable digital solutions to the heart of the community is what led them to develop a new model for providing digitised public sector services.

“The upgrades we’re currently making to our bespoke, 5G ‘network of networks’ means we can offer the same technical capabilities as more commercially orientated organisations – our own backhaul, core, sim; and commercial relationships with other operators – but can be more personally responsive to issues arising from people’s care issues,” explained Liverpool 5G technical lead and Telet Research’s technical marketing manager, Andrew Miles.

“We’ve built the network from scratch, which means we’ve been able to tailor it to meet these really specific, really human needs. Liverpool 5G doesn’t have a legacy of connectivity in people’s homes to support (such as 3G technology, which has historically presented a problem), so can look at disruptive new models to what’s currently available in this space,” he added.

However, it was not just technology requirements that have necessitated a new business model, according to Liverpool 5G’s project director, Rosemary Kay. “We knew early on in the project that we needed to develop a new service level agreement that supported the monitoring and delivery of our technologies,” she remarked.

“Many of the technologies support vulnerable people living independently in the community, so we need to be 100% sure that if sensors detect an older person has fallen, there’s an immediate home visit from a care provider. This level of personalised commitment is harder for a purely commercially driven operation to support. Our model is designed with this not-for-profit capability in mind.”

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