For the UK government’s plans for levelling up in health, education and the economy to be meaningful, it must be accompanied by equal access to affordable connectivity, according to Liverpool 5G Create, the driving force behind the mobile health, social care and education project in the Kensington area of the city.
A 7.2 million DCMS-funded project, part of the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, 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 Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care Testbed began operation in April 2018, with the Liverpool 5G Create: Connecting Health and Social Care project, announced in August 2020, setting out to develop a private, independent 5G network for health and social care services in selected areas of the city.
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, particularly of benefit for supporting the kind of public sector technologies the project aims to deliver, needing a power source that delivers the same power as a handset to work efficiently.
In addition, the 5G network in Liverpool was at launch said to be unique, as a hybrid 5G small cell public sector network of such scale had not been attempted before. 5G-supported remote GP consultations, online wound management, a haptic (remote hug) shirt, care home sensors, an anti-anxiety app for children under eight, and support for children learning at home during the Covid-19 pandemic were among the technologies being trialled by the community.
Liverpool 5G Create offers services that need connectivity, to volunteers from the Kensington community, with no charge to them for the connectivity. The project’s 5G “network-of-networks” operates using council-owned assets to provide a network that incorporates LoRaWAN, Wi-Fi and cellular 5G.
The volunteers are trialling life-changing technologies, including: 5G-supported GP surgeries; medical monitoring; fall prevention sensors; home schooling support; urine monitoring; AI-supported wound management; and Chill Panda, an anti-anxiety game for children, on wearables.
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Committed to reducing the digital divide and delivering life-changing public-sector technologies, the project has now built one of the largest 5G private public sector networks in Europe, and its developers now see their work right at the heart of the UK government’s Levelling Up agenda.
Indeed, Liverpool 5G points to the government’s white paper, noting: “The UK has larger geographical differences than many other developed countries on multiple measures, including productivity, pay, educational attainment and health.”
In a city impacted by these differences, Liverpool 5G believes that getting digital equality in place will help the city “level up” meaningfully, as many learning, health and community services will be delivered online in the future.
“The pandemic led to an increase in remote services, highlighting the impact of digital poverty on health inequalities, and the need for equal access to technology across different communities,” said project director Rosemary Kay. “However, investment in people’s health and education needs to be a long-term commitment. Providing affordable connectivity for children in every community – enabling them to home school or do their homework – will help the government achieve longer-term targets around training, employment and improved well-being.”
“Liverpool 5G supports Liverpool’s own levelling-up ambitions,” said Frazer Lake, cabinet member for social care and health at Liverpool City Council.
“Liverpool’s Local Plan lists ‘social value’ as a key marker for improving living standards in the region,” he said. “Liverpool 5G is certainly delivering that as it offers a sustainable solution for many. People often don’t access the public services they need because they can’t afford data and connectivity charges; what they can afford gives them unreliable connectivity. For levelling up to be successful, we need to support innovative and affordable models for delivering digital services.”
A recent addition to Liverpool 5G Create’s technologies came about from a collaboration with Eden Universe – another DCMS-funded 5G project at Cornwall’s Eden Project.
Residents at Liverpool’s Rowan Garth Care Home have been using 5G-supported virtual reality headsets and iPads to sample a virtual day out at The Eden Project – enjoying specially curated video content.
Sarah Chapple, activities coordinator at Rowan Garth, said: “Our residents have loved the experience of exploring The Eden Project from our care home. One resident, Dennis, said to me, ‘Sarah, this is amazing. I’ll never get the chance to visit Cornwall or The Eden Project, but this is the next-best thing.’
Other residents, using iPads, have been able to explore the video content on screen, helping them become more confident on an iPad and giving them a virtual mini-adventure from their own front room.”