In the coming year you will be able to use the new mobile network 5G at initial locations in the Netherlands. Apart from providing faster Netflix streaming, the network contributes to developments such as autonomous driving. The 5G network is faster and more reliable than its 4G predecessor and also has a very short response time.

The possibilities seem endless. To see what can and cannot be done, 5G field labs are being set up throughout the country to test the technology in the real world. In this way, for example, start-ups are created that bring applications to the market. Among other things, they contribute to more efficient mobility and smart cities.

“If autonomous cars communicate with each other, for example, in a traffic jam, a half-second delay can already cause a collision,” says Lenneke de Voogd, innovation manager at Delft University of Technology. “Not only the speed, but also the reliability of the network is crucial in this type of application. But there are many more uses possible.”

5G brings three advantages:

  • The availability of more bandwidth allows you to send larger amounts of data. This ensures better video quality and faster downloads.
  • The response time is shortened, making autonomous applications and robotic surgery possible. De Voogd: “When a surgeon performs an operation remotely, for example with a robotic arm, he or she must immediately feel how deep the scalpel is in the body. It’s dangerous if there’s a delay on that connection.”
  • The increased capacity allows multiple applications to run simultaneously. For example, air quality and noise pollution can not only be measured in real time, adjustments can also be made immediately if necessary.

Enthusiastic entrepreneurs for 5G

Different applications are being tested in field labs, especially in the province of South Holland. In the city of The Hague, World Startup, a platform that supports start-ups and scale-ups and helps companies to innovate, has set up a 5G field lab together with T-mobile.

In this way, South Holland wants to form a breeding ground where start-ups and scale-ups can go to develop and test 5G applications. “South Holland has the most field labs in the Netherlands and is therefore a real-life testing ground for digital innovation. In order to take research and applications to a higher level, companies, knowledge institutes and governments must work together,” says Mick van Kappen, Smart Digital Delta transition manager Smart Digital Delta at InnovationQuarter. That happens in the field labs.

Interested people from different backgrounds can apply and then work in a multidisciplinary team. Sometimes they already have an application in mind, but it can also emerge along the way. “We start with several workshops to let people develop an application and learn how to make it a start-up,” says Steginga. For example, the participants first attend a workshop on concept development, then they draw up a user path for their intended product. The next step is to start working with paper prototyping and finally, they look at business modeling.

One of the workshops of World Startup

On to the market

The workshops are followed by a pit event where the teams present their concept to a jury. In the first round, different concepts on various themes were created. The winners developed a smart evacuation system that enables buildings to be evacuated more efficiently and quickly; they are allowed to attend the World Mobile Congress in Barcelona. Another team worked on a system to pay by facial recognition.

World Startup will now further guide the best concepts to market. “One way we do this is by linking the participants to interested market parties who can contribute something to the idea,” says Mark Beermann, managing partner of the 5G lab. An example of such a company is SPIE, which focuses on the implementation of smart systems in buildings. “The participants also continue working on a business case to really set up a start-up.

Delft field lab provides its own infrastructure

Another example in the region was created on the TU Delft campus, the Delft Internet of Things (Do IoT) field lab. The metropolitan region of Rotterdam, The Hague, the province of South Holland, TNO, Holland Rijnland, the municipalities of Katwijk and Delft are participating in this. “We are going to build a digital infrastructure to enable students, companies and scientists to test all kinds of products and services in the field of Internet of Things based on 5G technology,” says De Voogd from TU Delft. This will make collaboration with experts and scientific knowledge in areas such as telecommunications and data science much more accessible for start-ups and companies.

“What makes the Do IoT Fieldlab so special is that we have our own 5G infrastructure with a data services platform that is operator neutral. Because of this, we are not dependent on a provider. This way, governments and companies can run tests independently. Providers can work with us to further develop and test their own network and services,” she says. The network will be set up on the TU Delft Campus, with The Green Village as a controllable environment for testing self-driving cars and Unmanned Valley Valkenburg as a location for testing drones, among other things. The Do IoT Field Lab will also have a mobile set-up so that various companies can experiment with 5G on their own location for a few weeks.

Drones save lives through 5G

Delft Dynamics is one of the companies that will experiment with a 5G network in collaboration with the Do IoT Field lab. The company uses drones to support rescue workers. The moment a report comes in, a drone is immediately sent to the drowning person or accident. The drone can pass on the location and possibly other data about the situation and the victims to the boat with rescue workers and if necessary also to the hospital. “In this way rescue workers can operate much more efficiently and people can be helped more quickly. But that requires a fast and, above all, reliable network,” she says.

The drone of Delft Dynamics © Delft Dynamics

In addition to the field labs in Delft and The Hague, experiments with 5G are also taking place in Scheveningen. The municipality wants to set up a small-scale digital infrastructure there to test and further develop various applications and business cases around smart cities. The technology of  5G plays an important role in this as a connecting network between various smart devices. Both public organizations and companies contribute to the infrastructure and can use it at the same time. Possible applications include smart traffic management, air quality measurement and safety monitoring.

There are also 5G labs in Helmond and Eindhoven.

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“All field labs have the same goal: to accelerate innovation and find new solutions to today’s problems. But inventing technology is not enough; you also have to be able to scale up,” says Mick van Kappen of InnovationQuarter. “That’s why there will be a connection between the various field labs in the region, the 5G corridor. This corridor creates cohesion between the living labs and the field labs. This will also enable us to innovate across different sectors. This really takes us a step further in realizing our social missions.”

According to him, South Holland is an important region for this because the province contributes almost a quarter of Holland’s GNP. “That makes the urgency for our region to come up with digital solutions all the greater.”