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CW’s 5G testbed has transformative effect for trio of companies

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The 12-week CW 5G testbed trial concluded last week with an in-person event at Tuspark’s Bio Innovation Centre on the Science Park.

Extend Robotics demo showcased improvements through 5G access
Extend Robotics demo showcased improvements through 5G access

The Cambridge-based 5G R&D accelerator has unlocked transformative benefits for the first start-ups and SMEs to use its 5G testbed. The trial started in March, offering participants the use of a 5G environment to progress their technology development plans.

Over a three-month accelerator programme on the CW (Cambridge Wireless)-led 5G private network, testbed participants Ubisense, Extend Robotics and Camnexus discovered cost and performance advantages from 5G that will boost their competitiveness and enable them to disrupt their respective markets.

On Wednesday last week (June 23) CW hosted a live, interactive demo of the testbed participant’s devices working on 5G at the Bio Innovation Centre. Each of the participants used the 5G bandwidth for different purposes, and they were all delighted with the outcome.

First up was Extend Robotics, a Reading-based robotics startup which has announced the launch of a teleoperated robotic arm or the service and catering industry. A video of the armshows it successfully pouring beer into a glass.

Extend Robotics has built a VR headset which operates the core electronics of the arm via cloudVR (available as an app).

The capabilities of Extend Robotics’ mechanical arms were transformed by the superior uplink speeds and latency of 5G. Consistent bandwidths of >20Mbps enabled bulk RGB-D data transmission and the doubling of cameras supported by their solution. Latency of less than 20ms – compared to 500+ms in 4G – enabled real time operation of the robotic arms from any region, a feat that was not possible with previous generations of mobile technology.

During the demo founder and CEO Chang Liu said 5G is beneficial “because the latency matters on the user perception side”.

Chang Liu, Extend Robotics founder and CEO
Chang Liu, Extend Robotics founder and CEO

“Yes,” Chang said of the demo day, “it was a success.

“We have tested more sensors and higher quality integration, plus more advanced robotic hardware to leverage the power of 5G.

“The program started three months ago and finished yesterday. but support from the ecosystem is open-ended.

“The facilities at the CW 5G testbed were excellent and flexible enough to support our diverse range of testing needs. We received engineer-to-engineer support on network set-up and had anytime access to the facility, enabling the team to maximise the impact of our R&D efforts during the three-month accelerator.”

Next up was Andy Ward, chief technology officer and founder of UbiSense, whose precise real-time location systems provide enterprise business automation by tracking people and assets with high degrees of axccuracy.

Ubisense’s cost comparisons for asset tracking in factories showed 5G delivered up to 60 per cent lower cost compared to current wired solutions. Further cost reductions were found in decreased cable damage and human error, and increased ease of sensor deployment – all while achieving the target level of performance (30cm accuracy in 3D with acceptable network load).

Andy Ward, CTO and founder of Ubisense
Andy Ward, CTO and founder of Ubisense

“It really works and we’re quite happy with the performance of the the 5G wireless network,” Andy told the audience at the event. After the event, he said: “By understanding where everything is in the factory, in real-time, we make it easier for the factory operations to flow smoothly.

“For example, parts are delivered on-time to the correct places of the assembly line, tools are automatically set up with the correct configuration for a particular build operation, and we can help improve worker safety – eg stopping activation of a dangerous piece of equipment if the person trying to use it isn’t suitably trained.

“5G helps because the system of sensors that we use to track things in the factory is quite dense, and each sensor needs to be network-connected. By linking the sensors wirelessly, rather than with cables, it’s easier and cheaper to deploy the sensors, and much easier to move them around when the factory needs reconfiguring, which happens quite often with modern production techniques.

“From our point of view, the CW Testbed was a chance to get our hands on a real private 5G network, experiment to see how well it worked in practice, and assess whether it could handle the kinds of large-scale, mission-critical sensor-to-sensor communications that we need to support our systems. The results showed that the real performance was as good as the predicted performance, and will help give our manufacturing customers confidence that they’ll be able to rely on 5G connectivity for future sensor system deployments.”

Last up was Camnexus, whose low-power IoT network allows farmers and city planners to test water for farming and consumer use ie for leaks, or even for the coronavirus particles. Camnexus’ technology is in use in Chile and Brazil, with a trial coming up in Uganda. Traditionally it uses low-power WAN (LPWAN) is a wireless wide area network technology that interconnects low-bandwidth, battery-powered devices with low bit rates over long ranges.

Camnexus’ founder and CEO Jessi Ocampos during her presentation at the CW 5G Testbed demo Day at the Bio Innovation Centre on Cambridge Science Park
Camnexus’ founder and CEO Jessi Ocampos during her presentation at the CW 5G Testbed demo Day at the Bio Innovation Centre on Cambridge Science Park

The Camnexus 5G test was notable because it involved connecting to another 5G test bed – in Santiago, Chile. It was a historic first in Chile, being the first transcontinental video call using 5G. The testbed validated 5G uplink as a new feature of the Camnexus LPWAN gateways: KUBO800 (for European and African market) and KUBO900 (for the Americas and Australian market). In a simulated scenario of massive IoT including 200 nodes and two HD video streams, 5G was shown to have higher reliability than 3G/4G. The result is a versatile Camnexus IoT LPWAN-5G infrastructure and seamless solution for clients looking to integrate real-time or higher bandwidth applications in a dedicated massive IoT solution that can secure existing infrastructure.

Camnexus’ talk was given by Dr Jessica Ocampos, CEO and co-founder of Camnexus, who said: “Camnexus’ participation in CW’s 5G testbed allowed us to research and gain valuable insight of this new technology and how this can be implemented in industrial IoT. Amid a pandemic our international team separated by 10,000 km was able perform the first 5G-5G end-to-end HD video streaming and simultaneous simulation of a massive IoT scenario. This can have a tremendous impact to our clients globally.”

She added: “It was a good event – my first live event since March 2020. We were able to ask for a new feature to be added to our product – a new gateway to connect to 5G – and that was accepted, so that’s a feature that wasn’t there before.”

To ensure that participants benefit commercially from the testbed’s three-month R&D timeframe, CW and testbed partner Huawei offered technical and commercial consultancy and used its network to engage potential business partners for the participants. On the back of this commercial support, Extend Robotics made connections with QuarkXR and co-developed a 5G-enabled CloudVR solution that reduced the total cost of their solution by 30 per cent.

Bio Innovation Centre general manager David Chaplin. Picture: Keith Heppell
Bio Innovation Centre general manager David Chaplin. Picture: Keith Heppell

Victor Zhang, Huawei vice-president, said: “This accelerator programme marks a breakthrough in the application of 5G and shows what’s possible by using this technology to work smarter. Congratulations to the participants for the exciting progress they’ve made and the boundaries they’re pushing in their sectors. This is just the starting point – we would like to work with other innovators in a range of sectors, by providing both our technology and our expertise, to explore opportunities for business and industry using 5G. This next generation of connectivity has the potential to reshape ways of working and all progress helps the whole ecosystem to grow and prosper.”

Abhi Naha, CCO of Cambridge Wireless, said: “Our testbed was the first 5G private network in the region and remains the only place in Cambridge for the local technology ecosystem to validate their technology on 5G. CW fully believes in the importance of 5G R&D facilities, such as this one, being accessible for engineering teams. Only then will companies be able to fully engage with the R&D and generate real business value not just for themselves, but also for their customers.”

David Chaplin, general manager at the Bio Innovation Centre, said: “We have been delighted to work with CW and their collaborators, in particular Huawei, to host their 5G testbed at the Bio-Innovation Centre. This building’s purpose is to enable innovative companies to set-up, grow and collaborate, which is exactly what the testbed is for too. It was great to see the participation at the demo day and we look forward to seeing further developments of applications making use of the benefits of 5G.”

Applications are open for the third cohort to enter the CW 5G accelerator programme starting in September.

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