Digital Catapult, Vodafone set to launch North East 5G innovation lab

Digital Catapult, Vodafone set to launch North East 5G innovation lab

Digital Catapult, the UK authority on advanced digital technology, has announced an innovation lab will be launched in Newcastle to boost digital skills, productivity and innovation across the North of Tyne region.

Set to be located in Eldon Square, the lab will provide local companies and residents with access to the latest 5G innovation and immersive technologies. This includes 5G Standalone (5G SA), and future networks, which Vodafone will provide and maintain for the lab as one of the project’s delivery partners.

The 5G Immersive Lab will offer state-of-the-art digital technology equipment and a versatile workspace, comprised of co-working areas, meeting rooms and event spaces. Through hands-on technology workshops and expert-led demonstrations, it aims to help local businesses overcome barriers to adopting advanced technologies. The lab will also provide high-speed connectivity to the Advanced Media Production studio at PROTO in Gateshead, creating a robust testing ground for solutions in a real-world environment, and accelerating the development and deployment of their products or services.

Digital Catapult, Vodafone set to launch North East 5G innovation lab
The facility, funded by the North of Tyne Combined Authority, will be launched in two stages. The co-working space is expected to be ready by spring 2024, with the 5G Immersive Lab set to follow by the end of summer. The project will combine commercial prowess, technical expertise and regional understanding to demystify technology and lower barriers to adoption throughout the region. This includes supporting communities and sectors across rural parts of Northumberland, as well as meeting the needs of businesses in the city of Newcastle and the towns of Morpeth, Hexham and Alnwick.

Pradera Lateral, the new managers of Eldon Square, has taken a keen interest in the development of the North East, with innovation in Newcastle city centre a particular focus. As one of the key partners getting the project up and running, the company has provided invaluable support in terms of hosting the facility in Eldon Square. This is part of a greater development that will generate around 375 new permanent full-time-equivalent jobs, alongside 490 jobs during construction, with around £16m added to the city’s economy every year.

Newcastle is one of the region’s technology hotspots and houses the seventh best startup ecosystem in the UK, with estimates suggesting current opportunities are worth approximately £30 billion for investors across the region. In the second quarter of 2023, venture capital investment into businesses across the North East more than doubled to £23.9 million, with the new innovation lab set to play a key role in supporting the future success of the North of Tyne’s technology sector.

Vodafone and Coventry University launch UK’s first 5G SA Media Innovation Lab

Broadcasters and media companies can work with Vodafone and Coventry University experts at the lab to develop new use cases based on the high bandwidth and low latency capabilities of 5G, as well as explore the benefits of new services such as network slicing.

Digital Catapult is committed to supporting the North East’s technology sector and, alongside Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley, will play a key role in connecting some of the North of Tyne’s most established businesses with the region’s most promising startups. As a commercially neutral environment, the facility is set to promote knowledge sharing and experimentation. It will encourage broader adoption of new solutions among businesses in the region, helping to sharpen their competitive edge.

Dynamo North East, a membership organisation for the technology industry, will help to identify small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across the North of Tyne region that might benefit from the project. Finally, the maintenance of the new innovation lab and coworking space will be managed by Floe, a company providing coworking spaces across the North of England.

Mayor Jamie Driscoll, North of Tyne Mayor, said: “5G is more than just being able to stream videos faster on your phone. It helps businesses to innovate and solve problems. So, it could mean better gaming experiences through virtual reality, more automation in our offshore renewable energy sector, driverless cars and even improved customer experience in shops. Imagine a digital mirror where you can see what a new outfit might look like – without getting physically changed. We don’t yet know the full capabilities of 5G and it will mean different things for different industries. That’s why this lab is really exciting, as it will provide the right environment and tools for businesses to test it out in a low cost, low risk way.”

Cllr Richard Wearmouth, Cabinet lead for Clean Energy and Connectivity, said: “5G development is a key milestone in our journey towards a better connected region and I’m excited about the opportunities this new lab will offer businesses – especially those in our rural areas, where we know there are still improvements to be made. It’s great to see this project get off the ground and I look forward to seeing the innovative ideas that come out of it.”

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Vodafone launches 5G Standalone connectivity over its standardised Mobile Private Network solution to offer ultra-low latency, high availability connectivity to power businesses into the future.

Nick Gliddon, Business Director, Vodafone UK, said: “Businesses are important pillars in any community. Not only for playing pivotal roles in driving job creation and contributing to both the local economy and the UK’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product), but also for sparking innovation, fostering entrepreneurship and driving diversity.

“However, in recent research, we found that UK SMEs are missing out on £8.6bn a year in productivity savings due to the slow roll-out of 5GSA. Now, more than ever, 5G digital innovation labs are vitally important in providing these businesses with access to the latest technology, which is needed to scale up their operations and stay competitive.

“We look forward to working with Digital Catapult, North of Tyne Combined Authority and Eldon Square over the coming months, as we find out how businesses are testing, exploring and identifying innovative use cases for 5G SA and, ultimately, shaping the future of their region.”

Ashmita Randhawa, Director of Research and Development, Digital Catapult North East Tees Valley, said: “The new 5G Immersive Lab in Newcastle represents a tremendous opportunity for local companies to access the latest immersive and 5G technologies that will shape the future of business. As part of Digital Catapult’s nationwide network of cutting-edge facilities, the lab will break down barriers to digital adoption and empower local businesses to embrace new solutions that can drive productivity, efficiency and growth. The North East is home to some of the country’s most exciting startups and businesses, and I’m excited that Digital Catapult will continue to play an important role in supporting the growth of the local economy and technology ecosystem.”