Northern Ireland to open largest 5G testbed set for smart manufacturing

Led by advanced digital technology firm Digital Catapult, the Smart Nano NI has announced the creation of a local technology consortium to further the development of smart manufacturing in Northern Ireland with what is being called the largest 5G testbed in Northern Ireland, marking a significant step in a five-year plan to accelerate smart manufacturing in the country. 

The Derry-based 5G testbed is the latest innovation activity to bolster economic growth and investment opportunity in Northern Ireland. The investment by the Smart Nano NI consortium is designed to create a valuable, open access facility and provide expert technical support to local startups and businesses through the Digital Catapult Smart Nano Accelerator Programme.

The testbed facilities will be delivered by global IT and business consulting services firm CGI, in partnership with Digital Catapult Northern Ireland. The 5G and 4G private network that will underpin the project is described as a first-of-its-kind smart manufacturing and education setting in Northern Ireland, providing access to the latest network technologies including 5G and narrowband-internet of things (NB-IoT), and will be instrumental in upskilling the next generation of innovators and experts across the country. 

The smart education site at the Industry 4.0 Centre in the Northwest Regional College’s Springtown Campus is designed to give both students and industry access to test and explore new use cases of the 5G private network, while the manufacturing site, hosted at Seagate’s manufacturing facility, will give businesses the opportunity to test the technology in a live manufacturing setting.

Following the completion of the programme, participating Northern Ireland-based companies will have the opportunity to compete for a £75,000 grant from Techstart Ventures to continue to develop their business idea. Funded through Techstart’s Proof of Concept Grant Fund, this pre-commercial grant-awarding fund supports entrepreneurs in Northern Ireland with grants to explore the viability and commercial potential of an innovative concept. 

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As part of the programme, Digital Catapult have also launched an open call for the latest Smart Nano Accelerator Programme, giving businesses access to the 5G testbed for the first time. The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge is inviting Northern Ireland startups and SMEs to join the programme and submit ideas for new technology solutions to solve manufacturing challenges.

“This is an exciting milestone for the project as we bring access to the latest 5G technology to both industry and academia and enable businesses to take advantage of the substantial market opportunities offered by 5G,” said William Revels, managing director at Digital Catapult Northern Ireland. “[This] will be the ninth 5G testbed in Digital Catapult’s nationwide network, and we’ve seen the opportunities that can be opened up from providing the equipment and in turn de-risking innovation.”

Volkan Pakoglu, director of consulting services at CGI, said: “The development of the new facilities also follows CGI’s opening of a delivery centre in Northern Ireland as part of its commitment to developing skills and talent in the region.

“The integration of this new 5G platform will demonstrate the value of creating mobile private networks within business by taking full advantage of the power, performance and connectivity of 5G,” he said. “We are committed to working together with Smart Nano NI and its partners to support and facilitate innovation, sustainable solutions and use technology for good.” 

The Manufacturing Innovation Challenge will take place from January to March 2024, with applications closing on 15 November 2023. Businesses interested in participating can apply online here.

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