A Liverpool-based innovation centre has been awarded a £3.5 million grant to explore the opportunities afforded by 5G technology in health and social care.

Sensor City, a research community that supports and funds the development of sensor technology, will lead a consortium of healthcare providers, researchers and businesses to look at how fifth-generation mobile technology can improve patient care.

Specifically, the consortium will look at how 5G wi-fi can be applied to patient monitoring and support, improve communication between healthcare services and help older people live more independently, while addressing the problem of loneliness in older people.

The grant has been awarded to Sensor City under the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS), 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, a five-year project that will see 5G applied in various scenarios across six test bed sites.

The said test beds will deploy 5G across a range of applications, including smart farming with drones, increasing manufacturing productivity and exploring the capabilities of self-driving cars.

The £3.5 million aided to Sensor City forms a chunk of a total £41 million being invested in the 5G Testbeds programme from public and private sector organisations.

Aiding the project will be a number of public sector health suppliers, the NHS, university researchers and local small and medium-sizes enterprises (SMEs).

Alison Mitchell, executive director at Sensor City, said: “The Government’s 5G strategy for the UK presents a fantastic opportunity to transform the lives of many, especially through health and social care, so I think I speak for all partners when I say we’re excited to see this work unfold over the next five years.”

In the Liverpool test bed, the project will be delivered with the aid of a “leading UK 5G technology vendor”, which will be responsible for deploying a variety of 5G technologies spanning open-source networks, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and internet of things (IoT) solutions.

The project will initially be funded for one year.

Professor Joe Spencer of the University of Liverpool and academic lead for Sensor City, said: “A successful demonstration of a 5G test bed in health and social care will see the development of new, innovative and disruptive technologies that will help to bridge the digital divide in the UK, especially in deprived communities.

“5G wi-fi will not only enable the development of new cost-effective products and services to address real needs and demand, but also bring huge social and economic benefits for the most vulnerable in society, while reducing the demand on hospital-based services.”

While the specifics of 5G are still to be hammered out, this hasn’t stopped vendors and network operators predicting ambitious dates for its arrival.

Ericsson, for example, has pegged 2020 as the year that the next-generation of mobile networks will enter healthcare, based on research the the vendor carried out last year.