New Ontario-Quebec 5G testbed will give 1,000 SMEs first-to-market advantage and links to global markets

Debbie Lawes
July 22, 2019

Five major global players in fifth-generation (5G) cellular technology have officially launched an interconnected five-city testbed that will give at least 1,000 small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) a competitive leg up in a quickly emerging market that promises to transform mobile broadband. The new ENCQOR 5G (Evolution of Networked Services through a Corridor in Québec and Ontario for Research and Innovation) network will also connect smaller companies with the purchasing power of large multinationals and their global customer base.

ENCQOR is led by Ericsson, Ciena Canada Inc., Thales Canada Inc., IBM Canada, and CGI, in partnership with provincial coordinators Prompt and CEFRIO in Quebec and the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) in Ontario. The five-year $400 million project includes $200 million (cash and in-kind) from the five anchor companies, and $66.7 million each from the Canadian, Quebec, and Ontario governments. Over its five years, ENCQOR is expected to create 4,000 jobs, including 1,800 specialized 5G jobs.

This is Canada’s first pre-commercial corridor of 5G digital infrastructure, with testbeds in Quebec City (Thales Canada’s Research and Technology centre and the Urban Science Joint Research Unit), Montreal (École de technologie supérieure’s Centech), Ottawa (Invest Ottawa), Toronto (MaRs), and Waterloo (Communitech). The network is available to both SMEs and academic researchers.

“All five hubs are now staffed and open for business,” says Pierre Boucher, GM of Innovation at ENCQOR. “Our goal is to have 1,000 Canadian SMEs that will be able to test both hardware and software solutions that will be designed to address some realistic problems on next generation equipment in a 5G environment at the digital innovation hub sites.”

5G’s expected speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second, increased network capacity and ultra-low latencies will drive a new generation of products and services, including connected and autonomous vehicles, remote healthcare, virtual/augmented reality, smart cities, and new Internet of Things (IoT) applications. The first 5G applications are expected to launch over the next 18-24 months.

Three options for participating

Companies with less than 500 employees have three options for participating. A technology development program will provide SMEs with $50,000 to $500,000 over two years. Companies partner with one of the anchor firms on a “challenge statement” drafted by the multinational that addresses a specific technology problem, such as network performance, reliability and security. Academics can also apply through this stream with $50,000 to $150,000 available per project.

“The technology development program is designed to ensure that whatever the SME delivers will be relevant to the real world,” says Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima, an ENCQOR board member and co-founder and CEO of Amika Mobile, an Ottawa-based SME specializing in critical and emergency communication and control. “It will force companies to work on practical applications and problems these anchor companies are putting in front of them.”

[rs_quote credit="Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima" source="Board Member at ENCQOR and CEO of Amika Mobile"]This isn’t about a solution looking for a problem. It’s about people developing real solutions for real-world problems.[/rs_quote]

SMEs and other groups can also apply for smaller amounts of funding — up to $50,000 over one year — to test their applications and hardware on the 5G platform, without having to partner with one of the anchor firms. Any resulting intellectual property is owned by participating SMEs, or negotiated in advanced when jointly developed with an anchor firm.

Thirdly, Boucher says anyone — "academics, SMEs, whoever" — can use the platform for free, to test products or other technologies, as long as it's technically feasible.

“ENCQOR is expecting to attract 200 to 300 unfunded projects per province,” adds Abu-Hakima. “This allows SMEs to test out an application or a server, for example, on a 5G network. And if you need testing across cities or across provinces then you can leverage the five hubs to do your testing. ENQCOR wants to make this easy for SMEs to try out.”

Ciena’s chief technologist Rodney Wilson described ENCQOR as an “accelerant.” “It’s the ability to harden your technology, test your theory, your product and your business case and partnership in a very supportive and somewhat forgiving real-world environment,” he said during a May 2 webinar organized by OCE.

In addition to the testbed, SMEs can also receive “business mentoring and access to people who can help take a concept and figure out where is the business value for that and how you can then turn that into a commercial proposition,” David Everingham, Ericsson Canada VP and chief technology officer said during the webinar.

As part of ENCQOR’s agreements with the three governments, a review will be conducted in 2021 to decide whether the program should be extended beyond five years.

“If you have something that is successful and is producing good results – having engaged 1,000 SMEs, created spin-off companies, attracted investment and trained more people – then I think there’s real value in extending it by another three-to-five years,” says Abu-Hakima.


What the ENCQOR 5G hubs offer SMEs:
Access to high connectivity, high capacity, low latency testbeds to develop next-generation technology solutions
Technical expertise, training, physical space, and support
Access to up-and-coming talent and funding for internships
 Support for customer development and engagement activities


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