Industry digital network works with Ontario to help SMEs accelerate time to market

Veronica Silva
February 6, 2018

Small firms keen to fast track commercialization of their innovations can find an ally in a new partnership that allows them to access an advanced digital infrastructure.

The Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) is working with the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN) to offer the Next Generation Network Program (NGNP) to small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The Ontario government is contributing $63 million to the partnership, but with matching funds from the private sector, the total will rise to $115 million.

CENGN is a federally funded network under the Centres of Excellence for Commercialization and Research (CECR) program, which bridges the gap between research and commercialization. CENGN counts among its members industry leaders in telecommunications and digital networking from Canada and across the globe, including Bell Canada, Cisco, EXFO, Huawei, Juniper Networks, Mitel, Nokia, Ribbon Communications, Rogers, TELUS, and Wind River.

“What we’ve been trying to do is build some infrastructure that uses the latest networking products and techniques to give a test bed and infrastructure for Canadian SMEs to showcase and prove out their innovation in the real world,” says Richard Waterhouse, VP of marketing & business development for CENGN, in an interview with RE$EARCH MONEY.

Under the NGNP, Ontario SMEs can use CENGN’s high-speed networks to test province-wide proof of concept or prototypes of projects. This is one of four streams (see chart below) in the program. Waterhouse adds that CENGN will also work with SMEs developing solutions that will bring connectivity to rural and northern Ontario, which is another funding stream.

The Ontario government anticipates the program will assist SMEs to capitalize on opportunities in emerging fields, such as autonomous vehicles, aerospace, public safety, cybersecurity, information and communications technology, mining, eHealth and smart agriculture. On its website, CENGN says it works with SMEs on seven project areas:

  • software-defined networking (SDN), network functions virtualization and software-defined networking wide area networks;
  • Internet of Things (IoT);
  • data centre and cloud;
  • security;
  • mobile networks;
  • network transport; and,
  • network applications.

“Companies are very interested to make sure that they are keeping up with innovation. (They) want to be in a position where they see where innovation is going,” says Waterhouse.

Claudia Krywiak, VP for corporate development, planning and strategic initiatives at OCE, says the provincial agency will work closely with CENGN and Regional Innovation Centres to drive awareness to SMEs and manage the intake of SMEs into the program. The OCE will also manage the review process for the proof of concept and demonstrations.

Krywiak says about 150 Ontario-based SMEs could be funded in this program. With the funds, SMEs get to access the NGN and support services, such as technical and advisory services.

NGN is not the only network that’s available to SMEs. With NGNP, Waterhouse says CENGN is not laying out new fibre connectivity. Instead, participants in the program will make use of existing networks from partners, one of which is CANARIE, a federally supported high-speed research and education network that’s available from coast to coast.

Peter Wilenius, VP for business development at CANARIE and CENGN board member, says CANARIE has been involved in developing the NGNP from the start, and both offer SMEs different project opportunities.

CANARIE offers the Digital Accelerator for Innovation and Research (DAIR) cloud computing for entrepreneurs, which “leverages Canada’s investment in the CANARIE national backbone research and education network to accelerate product development and market competitiveness of small and medium-sized Canadian companies.”

Wilenius says DAIR is for SMEs who do research and early-stage product development, testing, demonstration, customer pilot and move an application through commercialization. “The main difference with CENGN is that DAIR is available to SMEs all over Canada. Typically, the SMEs that are using DAIR are very early stage; 85% of them have between 1-9 employees, doing early-stage prototyping. … For CENGN, the users of the test bed would likely be a little further advanced,” Wilenius explains.

In DAIR, there is also no specific focus on applications that SMEs can work on, and they’re pretty much on their own. For CENGN, there’s a combination of test bed network and cloud computing for SMEs, and they will be supported by staff, he adds.

Wilenius says there are currently 11,000 SMEs using DAIR, but for CENGN, there will be fewer companies expected to access the test bed and to be supported by staff.

Waterhouse adds that it’s smart for both federal and provincial governments to support digital technology programs because the digital economy is going to drive things forward.

Reza Moridi, Ontario minister of research, innovation and science, said that this initiative “will further cement Ontario’s leadership by giving companies the tools they need to transform society and improve lives.”


Funding streams of the Next Generation Network Program

Proof of concept/demonstration projects

Talent development

Rural Ontario and northern Ontario support

Smart agriculture and smart mining

 Source: Ontario Centres of Excellence


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