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UK5G Showcase shows the value of extensive trials and testing for new tech

The UK5G Showcase is brimming with interesting projects and valuable lessons.

The UK5G Showcase has rolled into Birmingham this week, the first physical event in the lifetime of many of the projects on display here – and for some participants, the first time they’ve met their team members in person.

This event is the culmination of DCMS’s 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, which has seen dozens of projects across the UK test out the potential and the limits of 5G in a huge range of situations.

Most of these projects are now almost complete, providing a perfect opportunity for project owners to present some conclusions, and compare notes of the challenges they have faced.

See: Liverpool 5G healthcare network project nears completion

Amid robotic dogs, HoloLens headsets and flashy presentations, the over-subscribed UK5G Showcase event was brimming with enthusiasm, and with good reason, writes The Stack's' Eliot Beer from the event. The range of projects under discussion is genuinely impressive – and the discussions are valuable additions to figuring out how to make the most of 5G: “We are so grateful for the opportunity to experiment in a way that we can't do in our day jobs. We don't normally have a licence to fail,” said Patricia Doherty, project director at Candour Productions, part of the Live + Wild video production initiative which has been using 5G in challenging shoots across the UK.

She added: “Our job is to deliver content to broadcasters on time, under budget and to have no black holes in it. Whereas with this research project would really be known to push the boundaries. And it's allowed us to understand the tech so much more, so that we can start to apply creative thinking in the future to that tech.”

Similarly in the manufacturing track, Ian Jenner, director of control systems at Vacuum Furnace Engineering, part of the 5G Enabled Manufacturing (5GEM) project, said the project has been able to demonstrate some good achievements. But its members have also learned a lot from the challenges they faced.

See also: This port's 5G project features crane sensors, AI modelling

“We have the private network up and running, and we’re all going around with our phones and laptops going ‘look at this amazing download speed!’ – when we start to put it into practice, actually what we want was uplink speed. So this was a key bit of learning for Vodafone, obviously used to dealing in the consumer space rather than industrial manufacturing. We have very different needs than consumers,” said Jenner at the UK5G Showcase.

He also described issues with existing IoT protocols not being suitable for transferring large amounts of data, such as video, and with devices not expecting a cellular network to behave more like a LAN than a WAN – and more generally, the dearth of 5G devices for use in a manufacturing environment.

“As SMEs we don't want to be having to create our own protocols and special tricks to be able to move data – we want off the shelf solutions that we can plug in and know they are going to work for us. So some of the development we've done through Digital Catapult, sharing that information with other users has been really useful – and hopefully it will benefit everybody else,” Jenner said.

The Stack will be reporting more on the learnings emerging from the Testbeds and Trials programme in coming days – include essential reading for any enterprise contemplating a private 5G network.

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