5G in Liverpool: a healthy outlook?

Liverpool is a 5G leader among UK councils, notably through the Liverpool 5G consortium. This collaboration involves public sector health and social care suppliers, the NHS, university researchers, third sector organisations, agile local SMEs and leading UK technology vendors.

But Liverpool 5G isn’t an all-embracing approach to 5G applications. The consortium is trialling 5G in the very specific context of health and social care services. It asks: can 5G be part of a technological approach to health needs that saves on resources and money but also improves services?

It’s brought together Telet as the technical lead, Blu Wireless providing 5G mmWave technology and a mesh network, Broadway Partners doing the actual installation of the network, , along with the university of Liverpool, Mersey Care NHS Foundation, Liverpool eHealth Cluster and of course the city council itself .

And Real Wireless is part of this effort. As independent experts who can speak and understand both the technical and economic language of modern wireless services, we are ideally placed to assess the business case involved in finding ways to use 5G for health and social care.

This hasn’t been quite as straightforward as it may seem. Getting equipment for this innovative trial network wasn’t easy. But the project is now delivering results. It’s using the N 77 band – a low power shared access spectrum band. This is a designated 5G band at 3.7GHz using a small cell solution.

Our job is to ask what might happen if work in the trial area were to be scaled up – a local trial becoming a Liverpool-wide reality, in other words. What would it cost? And would the cost be worthwhile?

This isn’t just about the initial capital investment. If Liverpool were to set up a city-wide private network – one of the approaches we are assessing – there are obvious advantages in terms of control and reliability. But Liverpool still needs to run and maintain that network.

We are therefore trying to understand the costs of delivery versus the benefits. We are doing this based on the Green Book 5 Case approach to business case development for public sector funds to understand value for money against alternative options and the preferred way forward.

As I noted earlier Liverpool 5G is focusing on delivering telehealth and telecare services. Telehealth has been much in evidence during the recent pandemic: health advice and support that doesn’t require in-person meetings or attendance.

Telecare is an even bigger area. Is it possible to keep people out of residential care – to keep them in their own homes – with help from 5G? If so how much care can be done remotely and still be effective? Supervising medication is one example (and one that Liverpool has already trialled), but the ideal is a service environment at least as good as the existing one but a lot less labour-intensive or expensive.

Also, would a dedicated, private network help not just carers in the community but potentially care homes, health workers, district nurses or indeed GPs? Would this extra, guaranteed capacity be a worthwhile investment? Could the same network eventually support other areas of council provision like education or utilities?

Right now, however, it’s also about justifying the expense of a guaranteed service level. Would fall alarms and other safety critical alerts be better off on a private network? Just how valuable is that improved reliability that you get from a private network? Can extra, dedicated bandwidth bring better, cheaper provision? Or is the 4G/5G public network using an operator’s SIM cards all we need? Answering those questions is our job.

And this isn’t just an issue specific to Liverpool. Taking a 5G strategy forward and scaling it out across the city could mean creating a business case template that other city councils can learn from.

There’s a lot of interest from other city councils in what’s happening in Liverpool. This is a first for 5G and health and social care. But it could be the first of many.

Whilst the work we are doing for Liverpool will provide a robust basis for understanding the benefits/costs for 5G in the delivery of health and social care services, it will be necessary for each town/city that wants to adopt this to tailor the business case to their specific needs/environment in order to be confident that any investment they make will deliver the returns/benefits they desire.

You can join us at the Liverpool 5G Showcase Event in-person, or virtually, on 9 March 2022 at The Spine, Liverpool.