Digital Catapult to launch North East 5G innovation lab

Digital Catapult 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 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 will help local businesses overcome barriers to adopting advanced technologies. accelerating the development and deployment of their products or services. 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.

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 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 full-time jobs, alongside 490 jobs during construction, with around £16 million added to the city's economy every year.

Newcastle Mayor, Jamie Driscoll, 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."

Ashmita Randhawa, director of research and development at 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 to 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."

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 £8.6 billion 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 user cases for 5GSA and, ultimately, shaping the future of their region."