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How Kelowna's 5G project could help save lives across Canada

Image Credit: ADOBE STOCK
June 08, 2020 - 6:00 AM

A Kelowna pilot project using 5G technology could be a lifesaver as well as a game-changer when it comes to how accidents are reported and avoided.

But that’s just one of the endless variety of things the new technology will bring to Canada due, in large part, to a City of Kelowna manager who saw its potential a couple of years ago and has been championing it ever since.

“5G is going to be a game-changer, not just for municipal government but for all types of industries here in our valley,” Andreas Boehm, Kelowna’s intelligent cities manager, told “It’s dramatically faster. Files that used to take 20 minutes to download will take less than a second.”

That means, he predicted, that sensors can be put in farmland to monitor things like soil chemistry and moisture while collecting data from drones flying over crops. There will be more automation in industry and virtual reality will transform the retail world. It will enable safe driverless vehicles.

It could also detect accidents on a city street, alert emergency services and send them details of what happened.

But that’s still some years in the future.

In its early stages, 5G will be used to monitor a few blocks of downtown Kelowna so the movement, but not the identity, of pedestrians and vehicles can be better understood. This is being done as part of a pilot project funded by Rogers and UBC that will run through to the end of the year. The hope is it will create blueprints to expand the use of 5G technology to cities throughout Canada.

Up to five monitors will be set up in the downtown area. From that data, teams of UBC students will look at things like emergency response, transit use, interactions between pedestrians and vehicles of various sorts and whether there should be dedicated pick-up and drop-off places for ride-sharing.

“One data set we don’t have, but will be able to get from this project, is near misses,” Boehm said. “How often does somebody crossing the road almost get hit by a car, bike or a scooter? Often that goes unreported but if there’s a troublesome intersection (where) that’s happening quite often, now, the city can start thinking about: ‘What about the lights that we have there? Or should we have some signage? Or do we need to create a bike lane? Or, if we’re upgrading that bike lane, should it be separated?”

Boehm describes the pilot project as “baby steps” in understanding what 5G technology can do for cities – something he’s been promoting since attending a national Intelligent Cities conference a couple of years ago and recognizing that 5G’s speed makes it a game changer.

He developed a “smart cities” strategy he presented to city council earlier this year. It looks at a number of technological changes that can improve life for residents. It’s not just 5G level technology but has a particular focus on it.

5G is simply the next level of Internet speed. All iterations of cellular technology have used radio waves on increasingly narrower and faster bandwidths. According to Live Science, 5G will be 10 to 100 times faster than 4G so it can process way more data way faster.

It also requires much smaller transmitters that aren’t on towers. That makes it more feasible to do a small pilot project in Kelowna while full networks are only, at this time, being set up in Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal by Rogers Communications.

Boehm isn’t sure why Rogers approached Kelowna with an offer to do a pilot project earlier this year.

It could be that he’s been strongly promoting the new 5G technology.

Or, he suspects, it’s also because Kelowna is small enough that pilot projects can be done on a manageable scale to see if lessons learned here can be expanded to larger cities.

“With its thriving tech community and as a hub for innovation in B.C., Kelowna was a natural partner for this project,” Rogers said in an email. “We are focused on building right partnerships to foster a strong 5G ecosystem and bring the best of 5G to Canadians. This pilot will serve as a blueprint for the development of made-in-Canada 5G smart city technology.”

Boehm sees more partnerships coming down the road.

“We’ve got so many great assets here – the University of British Columbia, Okanagan College – but we’re all kind of working in isolation and we’re not really talking about what we’re doing,” he said. “So, with a project like this, we’re working with a national Internet service provider, and we’re working with an academic institution. We’re starting to bring in this expertise to help us figure out, what does this new technology mean and what is the impact it can have on residents of the city?”

As for those who have concerns about the safety of this new technology or claim that it caused COVID-19 – and Boehm did say there was “a lot of pushback from a few people” – he just wants to use this pilot project to show them what 5G can do.

“I can understand when people get a little scared of new technologies they don’t understand,” he said. “With some of these things, when we start talking about radio frequencies and we start talking about science that’s maybe difficult to understand, we tend to gravitate to some of the ideas that we can understand, things like COVID and cancer. It’s unfortunate. There’s a lot of misinformation out there but there’s a lot of information that points to this not being that big an issue."

He noted that there were concerns about WiFi when it first came out.

Rogers, in its email, said it will be rolling 5G out to more Canadian cities this year but didn’t say if Kelowna will be one of them.

For more on Kelowna’s Intelligent City Strategy, go here.

For more on Blue City Technologies, which is supplying the monitors and other equipment, go here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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