Rogers and UBC Unleash the Power of 5G

With ultra-fast speeds, low latency and increased reliability, 5G is ushering in a telecommunications revolution: almost anything can be connected and transmit data, including machines, objects, plants and devices. A 5G network can carry large amounts of data without significant losses, and opens up new possibilities for many sectors while offering societal benefits that are still being imagined.

As a Canadian leader in 5G innovation, Rogers saw the potential of collaborating with UBC researchers and in leveraging UBC’s experience in utilizing its campus as a living lab. With enough residents to represent a small city, and with unique management of its utilities on its Point Grey campus, UBC is the ideal location for conducting research in a real-world setting, using real data. For UBC, the partnership with Rogers would be the ideal vehicle for supporting a wide range of multidisciplinary research while exposing students to a unique learning experience in the context of stakeholder-engaged research.

The partnership began in 2018, and launched North America’s first 5G campus network in November 2019—expanding UBC’s Living Lab research into the telecommunications realm. Unlike conventional industry-sponsored research, the partnership is a collaborative process in which both partners agree on research projects and student engagement opportunities to move forward, in an evolving process. This openness has generated a number of exciting collaborations that address both the fundamentals of 5G and development of applications, in a new model for university-industry partnerships.

Evolving Research Projects

In the first phase of projects, individual faculty members proposed research projects in broad areas of interest that had been identified by Rogers. Results of nine selected projects were presented to Rogers virtually in December 2020, ranging from immersive AR/VR video, to self-driving mining trucks, to improved urban mobility. An earthquake early warning system project exemplifies the societal and economic benefits that can be realized by 5G. The telecommunications component of the system would be powered by Rogers, and could incorporate earthquake sensors as part of a home internet package, thus contributing to a body of data that would enable earlier and more precise warnings of earthquakes and their likely damage to individual buildings. (See appendix for more details and other project examples.)

A foundry model approach was taken to defining projects in the second phase of research: emphasising multidisciplinary teams in acknowledgment of UBC’s breadth of research expertise. This foundry model—a term derived from its likeness to the metallurgical process of the same name, in which molten metals are cast in a mold to produce a prescribed form—is based on the premise of forming research projects and ultimately companies or licensable products, from the broad topics of interest provided by Rogers around urban data. It’s another example of the openness and sense of exploration characterizing the partnership.

A virtual assembly of over 70 researchers and Rogers staff was held in June 2020 to identify these projects. Researchers proposed ideas that were grouped into emerging themes, and became the basis for three multidisciplinary team-based projects. The need to meet online due to COVID-19 proved to be an advantage, as it enabled a large group of researchers to propose ideas that could be quickly categorized and form the basis for self-assembling teams. (See appendix for details about the three research projects.)

“5G will change the way we live and work and our partnership with UBC is critical in building a strong Canadian ecosystem for this next-generation technology.”
— Neel Dayal, Director of Innovation and Partnerships at Rogers Communications.

Student Engagement

The research supported by the partnership is also equipping students with unique training that spans both academia and industry, allowing them to develop valuable knowledge and skills in the latest wireless technologies. In addition to the graduate training opportunities provided through the research projects, the partnership has offered exciting undergraduate learning opportunities through several codeathons with industry partners.

In the Rogers 5G Edge Codeathon (October 2019), student teams were challenged by Rogers and industry partners Ericcson and MobiledgeX to tackle use-cases in gaming and facial recognition run over 5G networks. Students also had the opportunity to be “interviewed” by Rogers staff in “hack your interview” sessions, to be better prepared for their job search.

The UBC/Rogers Smart Cities Ideation Challenge, held online in March 2020, addressed traffic-related problems presented by the city of Kelowna. Using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data previously collected at key downtown locations by the Montreal startup Blue City Technology, teams showed how the increased speed and data volume made possible by 5G could be harnessed to transmit and analyze such data in real time. This enabled the teams to develop solutions to urban problems such as managing curb space, providing accident warnings, and sending immediate prompts to emergency responders.

“I think it’s amazing we were able to go ahead with the Smart Cities Challenge and take this event online,” said Conrad Tomaszkiewicz, a fourth-year civil engineering student. “My team had never met in person before, and yet we were able to collaborate in this really tight window of time to build out a winning solution.”

Students emerged from these pressure-cooker sessions exhausted, but inspired by the chance to apply their academic learning to real-world problems. The latter session generated a pilot project in Kelowna and solidified a new partnership between Rogers and Blue City Technology.

“The evolving relationship with Rogers is not only producing significant and commercially relevant research results, it has spawned a new model for university-industry partnerships moving forward.”
Rob Rohling, Director, ICICS, and Rogers-UBC Relationship Manager

The Rogers-UBC partnership represents a new model for industry-university relationships, with each partner learning from the other through frank dialogue and agility. It opens up an important conduit for university research to reach and benefit society in an accelerated timeframe. It was developed by Innovation UBC and is co-managed by ICICS.

APPENDIX: Research Projects

Phase I Sample Projects

1.    Earthquake early-warning system (Lead: José Marti Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)). Professor Marti used sensors on BC Hydro smart meters in three different Lower Mainland neighborhoods to demonstrate an earthquake early-warning system. Current systems have a resolution of 20-30 km, meaning that earthquake waves detected by vibration sensors can only generate warnings to an entire city. Higher sensor density and the low latency enabled by 5G produced a 1000X resolution improvement, so tailored warnings can be issued and strategic actions can be taken before the most powerful wave hits, such as shutting off the power to prevent fires from gas leaks.

2.    Limiting user perspective in AR/VR to decrease lag (Lead: Robert Xiao Computer Science). With 60 per cent of current Internet traffic now video transmission—and much of this using mobile devices—techniques to reduce video bandwidth consumption are essential. Professor Xiao presented several techniques to engage augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) headsets, transmitting over 5G, that limit data transmission to only the user’s relevant point of view (rather than the full 360 degrees). Along with the AR/VR software being located on the multi-access edge computer (MEC) for reduced latency, this technique and a novel video compression scheme delivered an immersive AR/VR experience with no jarring lag. Potential applications range from analysis of remote medical images against the real scanned tissue, to virtually placing furniture in one’s living room to guide purchasing decisions.

3.    A machine-learning based technique for “network slicing.” (Lead: Vincent Wong Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE)). To fully realize the potential of 5G for specific applications, a slice must be taken off the network, in which parameters specific to the application can be optimized using machine learning. The algorithm is rewarded for meeting minimum customer quality-of-service requirements for the application, and improves as the process repeats. Overall, this results in higher data throughput at reduced delay.

Phase II Team-based Projects

1.    5G-enabled smart buildings for energy and space management (Lead: Bhushan Gopaluni, ChemBio Engineering). This project uses machine-learning tools to develop a data-driven energy management system for UBC buildings. The researchers are also designing machine learning-based algorithms that can generate live occupancy maps for campus buildings and allocate space accordingly.

2.    5G framework for natural asset management (Lead: Lorien Nesbitt, Forestry). This project uses a range of sensors to collect live data on green spaces and natural assets such as trees, soil, and other vegetation. Live data collected on the movement and behaviour of people enjoying these assets will be linked to the asset data and relevant building and transportation data, to inform decision-making and future green space design.

3.    Intelligent transportation data platform and environmental sensing for sustainable cities (Lead: Naomi Zimmerman, Mechanical Engineering). This project is developing a system to relate vehicular traffic on campus to air quality, with the sensed data communicated via the 5G testbed. It supports UBC’s efforts to achieve its 2050 greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, while creating another 5G application that could benefit us all.