The Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care Testbed started in April 2018 as part of the DCMS 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme and the greater 5G strategy, and ran for 20 months.
The project, the first 5G supported health trial of its kind in Europe, was given £4.9 million to see if 5G technology provides measurable health and social care benefits in a digitally deprived neighbourhood. It is also part of the UK5G, national innovation network for the sector.
The project was delivered by the Liverpool 5G Consortium.
Aims – What we were trying to do
Throughout the project, the consortium tried to address the following question:
“Can 5G connectivity be sufficiently cheap and effective in health and social care provision that it will be cost effective to give free access to those unable to afford either phone or broadband access?”
We knew that to answer this question we needed a series of technological solutions that care services could easily adopt and use.
Throughout the project we also focused on:
- Reducing the digital divide
- Providing affordable connectivity with the necessary level of service
- Creating capacity within social care services
- Improving efficiency in health and care services
- Improving people’s quality of life and reducing social isolation
Activities – What we did
Over 20 months we have mobilised 11 partners, over 15 subcontractors, social care providers, local citizens and wider stakeholders to take part in our project. We establish a working 5G mmWave network, which supported health and social care products for 179 people in the community. Our partners span the full range of private, public and third sectors.
The Liverpool 5G Health and Social Testbed harnessed opportunities created by 5G mmWave technology and used them to address challenges currently facing health and social care services. A private 5G mesh network supports telehealth services in the Kensington area of Liverpool.
We combined Blu Wireless’ British mmWave technology with WiFi and LoRaWAN connected to Local Authority backhaul, an independent data-centre hosting application, and internet carrier peering. To tackle the challenging and conventionally expensive ‘last-mile’ access problem, we have built a network using 220 mmWave nodes and established network planning methodologies based on lessons learned whilst deploying the testbed. We now have the largest mmWave mesh network in the UK.
During the latter part of the project we provided gigabit wireless links to two community buildings: a local care home and a community learning centre. We deployed a significant number of IoT devices in the community.
There are two strands to our project. The technical challenge of installing and proving the feasibility of the new mmWave mesh network technology, and the complex challenge of introducing new and emerging technologies to existing health and care services and ensuring people see improved health outcomes.
The project has been managed by the eHealth Cluster, who have also carried out benefits realisation activity – gathering and evaluating data from each organisations to measure the impact of the trials. This work is vital as it helps establish how health services will adopt technology in the future. It also enables SMEs to demonstrate the impact of their products.
Throughout the project our partners have played an active role in ensuring key local and national groups, businesses and communities are informed about the work we’re doing and the potential benefits of 5G technology. We have attended conferences, debates and events nationally and internationally and regularly provide interviews, quotes and updates to relevant press and media.
Liverpool 5G is an ongoing part of the conversation about 5G/ emerging technologies and the positive impact they can have on health and social care services. We have overcome significant challenges when integrating our products into existing live services and recognise these challenges as the start of a significant change management process to integrate technology into the way care services are delivered. The procedural and technical challenges we have overcome throughout the project are an essential part this transformational process.
Creating the 5G mesh network
The wireless 5G network was designed and installed over the course of the project, with input from several partners:
- The wireless 5G network Liverpool 5G is using was designed by BluWireless, using 5G mmWave technology. It uses existing fibre to create a wireless mesh network, installed on streetlights, which allows internet service providers to use unlicensed spectrum band to provide Gbit connectivity to homes.
- CGA Simulation designed a 5G network planning tool using ‘digital twin’ technology that was used to streamline and improve node placement planning.
- AIMES supported the network deployment and developed a Trusted Research Environment for securely storing and analysing data from the project.
- The University of Liverpool produced algorithms to reduce power consumption.
- Liverpool John Moores University built a simulator to model the properties and parameters of 802.11ad Networks, and this was integrated into the CGA Simulation 5G network planning tool.
- DefProc Engineering provided a public access LoRaWAN Network using the Things Network with 5G backhaul.
Supporting Health and Social Care services
Volunteers were identified by the eHealth Cluster and Liverpool City Council (home care providers and care homes) to trial the technology. Protocols were developed for engaging with users safely.
11 new technologies were supported by 5G technology:
- Loneliness apps: ‘Push to Talk’ links older people for a chat and ‘The Loneliness Quiz and Bingo App’ builds social connections for people with a learning disability.
- At the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust ‘Telehealth in a Box’ connects the hospital with community patients, whilst 5G supports pain distraction VR headsets for palliative care.
- In the Kensington community, 5G supports Safehouse Sensors to develop a new type of telecare service, a dehydration device (first 12 months only), chromatic sensors in the home and PAMAN, a pharmacy video link enabling people to take medicine safely at home. All the innovations help people live independently at home for longer.
5G technology was chosen to support these health technologies because it is faster, more reliable and can transfer more data than existing options. It is the perfect technology for supporting Internet of Things (IoT) health and social care devices that people rely on to stay well at home.
From April 2018 to November 2019 the Liverpool 5G Testbed:
- Created a unique and innovative consortium of public sector health and social care suppliers, the NHS, university researchers, third sector organisations, agile local SMEs and a leading UK 5G technology vendor
- Created the largest 5G mmWave network in UK and second largest in the world, and deployed significant levels of IoT in people’s homes
- Demonstrated the potential for 5G networks to make positive impacts on societal health outcomes over the next 5 years
- Demonstrated that 5G mmWave enabled Health and Social Care services can reduce the cost of those services thereby creating extra capacity
- Demonstrated that 5G mmWave networks can be more cost effective than cellular connection, can be any size and shape, can readily deployed in areas of need, and can be deployed cost effectively
- Demonstrated that, through the use of licence free 5G mmWave networks, there exists a future for 5G that reduces, not increases, the digital divide and access to services
We have shown how 5G can effectively support new and existing technologies, enabling the use of innovative health and social care applications in the field more cost-effectively.
Analysis of the benefits and impact of the devices during the project trial showed that using 5G supported health technologies can:
- Improve health outcomes for service users and increase ability to manage their own health
- Improve quality of life and reduce loneliness for service users
- Increase the capacity of health and social care services, by decreasing the need for social care services, primary health services and hospital services as a go-to first option
- Give an estimated potential cost saving to health and social care services of over £200k per 100 users per year (dependent on the technologies used)
Learning from the project
People taking part in 5G enabled health projects can see improved health outcomes but the following challenges need addressing:
- Fit the technology to the need, not the need to the technology, when identifying potential health and social care technology applications.
- People need to be ready to accept new technology and have relevant support and guidance they need.
- Critical to successful implementation is a close positive working relationship with the health and care providers.
- SMEs developing technology for health and social care sector often need support to develop a better understanding of the environment and the challenges faced.
- To show impact there needs to be an understanding of the underlying problem, and the ability to work with health and social care providers and service users.
For permanent change to take place, all stakeholders need to be involved:
- From clinician to care worker
- Brokering between stakeholdersis a helpful tactic
- Social care workers have insight into real lives – skills not everyone recognizes
Addressing the technical and logistical challenge of planning, producing and installing the Mesh Network:
- Planning needs to take place in an environment of close cooperation with local government departments, for instance, for access to street furniture and future planned works in the area.
- Planning of node deployment and installation is a two-step approach; using the planning tool, and then manually carrying out site surveys.
- Using contractors who already have a relationship with council, have local knowledge of the area and product familiarity smooths installation.
- Moving from R&D to large scale production can be challenging, an effective supply chain establishment is essential.
- A combination of partners is needed for effective installation on buildings:
- Liaising organisation to establish relationship with care providers, for access
- Contractor with capability and familiarity with product, for installation
- Partner with the skill set and flexibility for internal works
You are more likely to be successful if you:
- Build on established projects and services – not a stand-alone project
- Use real services to avoid stand-alone pilots
- Work to ensure the integration of the technology and social aspects of the project
- Accept that new technology takes time to both develop, install and adopt
- Build flexibility into the programme
- Recognise that the input from all partners, subcontractors and trial partners is all equally valid and critical to the success of the project.
Please read the full report on the Liverpool 5G Health and Social Care Testbed and Trial