Oh, gee! 5G Test Network to Oulu!: Creating new services and methods with 5G

Together with their industrial partners, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University of Oulu are building a 5G test network in which critical new technologies can be developed. The test network will also enable the testing of the performance of new technologies in a realistic environment. The test network in Oulu will consist of two parts: a restricted network on VTT’s premises and a public network at the university. In addition, the test network will be expanded to cover different parts of the city on a more open basis.

Exciting times ahead

Talk about technological advances, such as network speeds and new devices that allow us to experience our daily lives with more ease, is usually focused on either the user or the business side of things. Buy-outs, mergers and increasing user base is the norm when we read the technology news, as are numbers indicating speed, chunks of data or installed devices. But we rarely even notice, let alone acknowledge, that the daily life consists of the use of public services, such as traffic lights, road signs, public health care and how to participate as a citizen, to mention just a few.

One of the main drivers in the current development of digitalising services is the upcoming 5G standard, and it’s been recognised as a focus priority within the City of Oulu. Collaboration is the key, as the public sector needs to invest in the present as well as the future. For this purpose, a joint venture between six cities in Finland was developed, with several targets, one being openness in technology usage: open data, open participation, and open innovation platforms. Oulu is the lead partner in this sector. The actual development projects reside in the University of Oulu and the VTT, where the development and competence are located, with several companies participating directly in the 5G development, and the city providing proactive evaluation and testing in a public environment.

“In short, companies can validate their products first in test networks provided by research institutes or in selected areas and after that companies can proceed to utilize city built open test platforms, where the actual users can provide further feedback”, says project manager Heikki Huhmo from the 6iAika-project.

“As a concept, 5G isn’t only a new radio technology, but more like a combination of existing networks and new, more microcell-like technologies that, when combined, provides a framework for new kinds of services”, he says. “The point is not just allowing more data bandwidth or new hardware, but the expectations are in the new ways to provide services and content. With this project, we are introducing open innovation platforms which allow citizens to offer their two cents – we can not only think about making digital versions of existing services but also enabling new services that have not yet been even thought of.”

New opportunities, new ways of doing

With the city opening its data depositories and the innovation platform providing methods for utilising that open data the actual participation still remains a question mark. “It’s very much like the culture in general – we definitely should not be stuck in the tech side of the project. The combination of ICT and content development is the key.” For instance, Virtual Oulu is a part of the open innovation platform, but there’s not much content in there yet, even though the city has been scanned into a 3D model quite extensively, and this is an example of the future Mr Huhmo sees coming: when people realise they can do things, the devices will evolve in response to users’ requirements. But first, that source must be tapped; participation must be open and easily accessed.

Huhmo sees content as the key, but notes that it does not necessarily mean we know what ‘content’ is in all this. “We’re going to have a lot of sensors and devices gathering all kinds of data in our surroundings, homes, clothes and the devices we use. It seems to me that we’re on the verge of something we do not know yet. Services are the key, and they can be gamified, virtual, whatever works best. But when things start rolling, when the actual utilisation begins, we will be ready for that.”