What is 5G Barcelona, in simple terms?
It is about a city-wide “lab” for the validation and adoption of 5G technologies into the wider environment. We’re setting up pilot projects to experiment, to validate and to adopt the usage of 5G technologies, analysing its industrial, technical and market aspects. There were many standalone trials happening in various tech labs around the city and the region, and our main idea was to bring them together in a public-private initiative. 5G Barcelona is an initiative that I took part in the creation of, together with the local consulate. We have four key research centres in Catalonia (i2CAT, CTTC, UPC and Atos) focused on 5G development, in addition to the City Council, the MWCB and the Generalitat of Catalonia, plus many people working with 5G and new associate collaborators, and so we all asked ourselves: why don’t we, for the first time ever, create a joint effort and make a much bigger impact? In this public-private consortium, we have connected the research centres with Barcelona city and the Catalan government, as well as a few research labs and private companies.
What has 5G Barcelona achieved so far and what are the next milestones of your initiative?
This initiative already creates synergies within this ecosystem. It isn’t always easy to put together different research labs that on other occasions are competing against each other. We have created a strategic alliance that has never existed before, and that now offers an experimental environment infrastructure to stimulate existing innovation in Barcelona and to help attract foreign investment and bring tech startups to the country. In Barcelona, we have created a momentum of 5G technologies and the impact is really visible. So far there have been around 60 initiatives and now we are “identifying” those that are moving forward most efficiently and also the number of those that are also producing events outside of the city of Barcelona. We don’t want to focus merely on the city; we want to bring technology to everyone. Another great leap forward was that 5G Barcelona, together with Vodafone and the Hospital Clinic (under the leadership of Dr Lacy), was the first initiative to set up a real-time remote surgery. A doctor was monitoring the surgery being performed by his team, in real-time, from another country. This is a clear demonstration of how we are extending the capabilities of the health system by means of technology. We are often asked what the added value of bringing 5G technologies to the healthcare system is; 5G is able to provide not only faster but also higher-quality service whenever there are emergencies.
Can you share any more examples?
Another demonstration was with Telefonica, SEAT and other players, which provided us with very fast and direct connectivity to the city’s mobility, such as self-driving cars, in order to increase safety. For example, whenever there is a bicycle about to cross a street, by means of central technologies, we are able to connect to a car in real-time, so that it will detect that there’s a higher propensity for an accident to happen. Also, we have established vertical liaisons to guide companies throughout the 5G trial and adoption. As a result, we now see that many organisations are getting in closer contact with 5G Barcelona and are interested in setting up a pilot. In terms of knowledge and training, we have several training programmes for different companies and organisations. We are now putting together a postgraduate programme with the local university too.
What is your favourite 5G project of all?
The one I am coordinating, and that is dealing with the key infrastructure – which is neutral hosting with small cells (antennas). To give better performance to the citizens, you need more connection points. We are working on the concept of having one antenna that shares all the resources between different telecom operators. So different telecom operators will not only share the place where the antenna is located, but will share the antenna itself. This is a new business model and a new solution that somehow facilitates the deployment of technologies into the cities. Truth is, we need more confidence from, and collaboration between, operators because this will be the first time ever that they are starting to share what is called active infrastructure. This project is called 5GCity and is sponsored by the European Commission under the H2020 programme and the 5G PPP initiative. We are running this project in one neighbourhood of Barcelona, 22@, where we have a three-square-kilometre area with various technologies being applied.
What are the biggest benefits of 5G for cities, residents and businesses? And why should the urban areas implement this technology?
5G is, to put it simply, about huge data capacity with low latency. This means that you can work remotely in near real-time, on very complex projects. People, cars, sensors, city furniture and many other elements can be connected in very complex ways, in real-time, and this will change business models and city services. 5G also provides something that is called mobile computing technologies. This means that instead of processing in the cloud, we bring the processing closer to the user. For example, we are computing some process elements that are close to sensors and antennas.
Are there any hidden dangers that you see in 5G, or the IoT in general?
Well, the biggest danger is not in security, but in the lack of a holistic view. Nowadays, you see many IoT projects and developments. But there isn’t proper convergence of all the elements connected to the network. As soon as we have the right technology that will facilitate or provide us with the capability to provide correlations, integrations and merge all the connected elements together, there will be a bigger motivation to invest into IoT deployment. For example, there are IoT sensors in one parking lot and more in another parking area. You’ll have some sensors on the street, but the information is not connected yet. So if I invest into an IoT project, but I don’t get the return on investment from the whole impact that it could have, it then becomes less attractive
What would be your advice for anyone who is trying to do the same as you?
The most important thing is the people and the network. This initiative has been successful thanks to the collaboration, and would not work without people connecting and working together. But the locality matters too. The fact that we’re based in Barcelona and the Mobile World Congress is happening here has really helped. It is an event that generates lots of hype around the 5G networks naturally, and so it evolved into such a collaboration more easily. Thanks to these connections, we can do something that is unique worldwide.