Opinion: “Real-world,” publicly accessible 5G testbed needed to support SMEs in Canada’s growing 5G system
January 13, 2021
The ENCQOR (Evolution of Networked Services through a Corridor in Québec and Ontario for Research and Innovation) program, focused on the next generation of telecommunications (usually referred to as 5G), is headed by multinational companies Ericsson, Ciena, IBM, Thales and CGI.
ENCQOR’s main objective is “Development of a world-class collaborative platform for ICT research, innovation, and application demonstration” in Quebec and Ontario, and helping to encourage a Canadian 5G ecosystem. It is now close to the end of the funding cycle, with just over a year to run.
What lessons have we learned from the first five-year term of this funding and where is the ecosystem today?
The reality is that 5G network hardware has been successfully developed by several major multinationals, including members of the ENCQOR group, and is now being installed by wireless carriers in many countries including Canada. University researchers and major companies in this field are focusing on the next generation of applications and services.
Clearly there are many opportunities in the 5G field, with more focus internationally on open standards and modular architectures for 5G networks, additional opportunities for support services, and an almost infinite range of applications that will take advantage of the new capabilities of 5G services.
Working in this field is challenging and a significant investment for Canadian SMEs, so we need to lower those barriers if we expect small and medium enterprises to operate and excel in this area. It needs to be easier for smaller companies to create, for example, new network management software or new devices and services that reside at the edge of the network or new applications that will benefit from the enhanced capabilities of 5G.
Although there are a few facilities in the Ottawa area for testing 5G devices, such as the Invest Ottawa Area X.0 and an Ottawa portion of the multi-site ENCQOR test bed, there is not a real-world environment with urban, suburban, and rural 5G installations that can be accessed by the public.
However, there is a not-for-profit located in Kanata (in West Ottawa) which provides a network operations and testing environment for hardware and software, the Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN), and they are well placed to fill this gap, supporting growth of a Canadian 5G ecosystem.
If there is to be follow on funding for the 5G ecosystem it should include both the CENGN mission and the establishment of a 5G zone in a real-world outdoor environment such as Kanata North where it can be accessible to as many potential users and developers as possible. Kanata North is also the home of major development centres for Nokia, Ericsson, Ciena, QNX, Mitel, Solace and many more.
Asked for comment, Terry Matthews, Chairman of Wesley Clover International, a private, global investment management firm and holding company based in Ottawa, said: “Kanata is home to the Canadian development centres of the major international players in 5G and most of the private sector telecom R&D in Canada is already based here. Plus a large number of associated SMEs. Almost 28,000 tech workers in Kanata. It would make an excellent testbed for smaller companies to try out their equipment and software in a real environment with a variety of challenges from weather to traffic to topography. Any future funding for a 5G ecosystem should include partners who can create a facility for the benefit of Canada, growing a local 5G ecosystem and building on the good work of the ENCQOR group.”
Gordon Harling is president and CEO of CMC Microsystems. Michael Turner is vice-president, system strategies at Wesley Clover International.