Rogers, UBC re-up 5G partnership with $5m commitment

Wildfire management, telehealth among applications to be tested

Photo: Rob Kruyt, BIV

Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) and the University of British Columbia aren’t ready to hang up just yet on a years-long partnership focused on 5G.

The organizations revealed Tuesday they’re re-upping an agreement launched in 2018 that sees them collaborating on initiatives using the next-gen communications technology to make advances in everything from wildfire management to telehealth.

The new four-year partnership sees Rogers earmarking $4.8 million in capital for projects at the province’s largest post-secondary institution. National research organization Mitacs is now also joining in on this initiative.

“It gives UBC an opportunity to partner with people that understand the technology deeply, [and] to bring the ideas that we have from a diverse group of faculty and students across our campus,” Gail Murphy, UBC’s vice-president of research and innovation, told BIV.

After UBC and Rogers agreed on broad areas of interest to partner on, the university opened the doors to researchers to join workshops and develop specific project proposals for 5G applications. A steering committee then gave the projects final approval.

Initial projects in the renewed partnership include improvements to wildfire management through better real-time monitoring of forest conditions, advancements in telehealth to reach patients in remote communities and the development of a platform to address large-scale emergency situations.

“With what's going on in the news lately with wildfires in British Columbia this year, more so than ever, we thought it was really important to look for opportunities for us to be able to utilize 5G technology in partnership with UBC to look for some breakthrough opportunities and applications,” Rick Sellers, Rogers president of B.C. region, told BIV.

“It's still early, early days, but we feel very confident based on the components that we have in place that we should be able to find some pretty innovative solutions and opportunities.”

While Chinese giant Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd.’s 5G equipment has been in the crosshairs of Canada’s intelligence allies over espionage concerns, Rogers has long been partnered with European vendor Telefonaktiebolaget LM Ericsson (Nasdaq:ERIC) for its 5G rollout. Sellers said the equipment being utilized in the UBC partnership will also come from Ericsson.

Rogers and UBC originally partnered in 2018 on what the telecom giant described as Canada’s “first 5G-powered smart campus.”

The initial three-year partnership saw 5G towers dotting the landscape across UBC’s Point Grey campus, allowing researchers to test 5G technologies.

Previous research projects to tap the 5G network include earthquake and tsunami detection technology, digital mining innovations to make mines safer and improve the operations of autonomous trucks, and a 5G Mobility as a Service (MaaS) platform to better connect transit, bike rental, car sharing and other modes of transportation.

And last year, Rogers and UBC researchers deployed 5G sensors in downtown Kelowna to better understand how pedestrians, cyclists and motorists interact. Those 5G-powered sensors have the capacity to collect more intricate data than conventional traffic cameras.

The $4.8 million from Rogers is part of more than $25 million the telecom company has earmarked towards R&D and strategic partnerships at Canadian post-secondary institutions aimed at commercializing 5G applications.

“When we can do these partnerships with Canadian companies, we're able to really grow interesting technology here in Canada that can benefit Canadians,” Murphy said.