24.11.2022 - Economy, GBS, ICT

Is 5G the driving force behind the Latvian economy?

The fifth-generation mobile communications network or 5G is the most talked about topic in technological development. Shrouded in myths, and neither fully researched nor understood, some view it as a genre of future fiction, whereas others believe it is reality, moreover not a mystical one in the distant future, but today, here and now. Latvian companies are already developing 5G technologies in smart mobility, medicine, military production and other fields.

Increasingly, society as a whole and businesses as the components of the Latvian economy have accepted and understood that 5G is inviolably linked with each and every one of us – with our development as a country, as well as our individual ability to enjoy a better quality of life with a higher degree of convenience, moreover by saving all kinds of resources in the long-term.

Fifth-generation mobile communications technologies provide ultra-fast broadband connection, low latency, and energy-efficient Internet access services for the provision of innovative industrial solutions, as well as creating the opportunity to connect a large number of Internet of Things devices to the network.

5G technologies make it possible to digitalise processes within any economic sector, choosing the most optimal network solution. For example, in the transport sector this makes it possible to introduce smart traffic regulation, and facilitate self-driving car traffic, etc. New digital solutions provide extensive opportunities to develop sustainable solutions, as well as allowing businesses in various sectors to manage their resources more efficiently.

Technological development dictates the need for new decisions in politics. For some time now, digitalisation has been the focus of attention in Europe, and one of its main goals is 5G. In truth, one has to admit that in the realm of digitalisation, countries like the USA and Japan are far ahead of Europe. Reflecting this awareness, European countries are now hurrying to take giant strides forward so that they are not merely trailing in the footsteps of more developed countries in terms of digitalisation, but could even overtake them with the help of various solutions and capabilities.

5G in Latvia

In Latvia, the extensive opportunities provided by 5G technologies and digitalisation are also appreciated at government level. How far has Latvia come in terms of developing 5G technologies? Could 5G lift our economy to unprecedented heights? Are we just followers, or are we actually pioneers of innovation?

In my opinion, the most important 5G drivers in Latvia are SIA Latvijas Mobilais telefons (LMT), the radio frequency spectrum administrator VAS Elektroniskie sakari, which ensures the release and re-planning of the most conducive radio spectrum bands for rolling out 5G, as well as the 5G Techritory forum. Since 2018, this event brings together 5G decision-makers and practitioners from Europe and elsewhere. During the past five years, the forum has become an event that the region’s most important decision-makers in the realms of business, science and politics attend. In addition, it is used as a platform from which to drive global economic growth based on modern technologies.

Achievements to date

At the end of 2020, the first 5G defence technology test site in Europe opened at the Ādaži Military Base. In November this year, two new 5G networks entered service there, which were developed by LMT in collaboration with the technology suppliers Nokia and Ericsson, creating an environment for the development and testing of new generation wireless technologies. In turn, the innovation project “Fifth-generation (5G) connected and automated mobility EU cross-border trials” (5G-Routes) supported by the European Union research and innovation programme “Horizon 2020” has received EUR 89,600 in co-financing from the Ministry of Education and Science. This project is being implemented by LMT. Likewise, LMT is responsible for the integration and modernisation of the 5G infrastructure network of mobile communications operators in Finland, Estonia and Latvia. It is planned that LMT will simultaneously develop 5G infrastructure and develop solutions, where the capabilities provided by the 5G network play a significant role.

Can you imagine Riga as an international self-driving test site? In collaboration with the Road Traffic Safety Directorate, LMT has built the first 5G test track at the Biķernieki circuit in Riga, which in future will be used for researching, developing and testing various innovative solutions, including autonomous and connected cars, traffic management, safety and other digital solutions tests.

According to LMT President Juris Binde, for several years now LMT has been making strategic investments in the expansion and upgrading of infrastructure, and in the development of new 5G-based solutions. This has enabled it to build what is currently the most extensive 5G network in Latvia and to introduce the technologies of the future into the daily operation of businesses and organisations in various sectors. Juris Binde explains that several years ago, when it started work on introducing 5G and developing network infrastructure, LMT firmly believed that it would deliver immeasurably greater advantages than other data transmission technologies. Today, with its 5G expertise LMT is involved in international projects, and positive feedback from international partners confirms that Latvia can make a significant contribution to the development of future technologies.

Field in which it is impossible to do without 5G

In trying to outline the progress of the Latvian economy in connection with the application of 5G, I would like to highlight three fields of particular significance to our economy, which are:

  • the smart city, whose development is unimaginable without 5G. It is required to provide sensors, sensor systems, the Internet of Things, as well as self-driving and drones, etc.;
  • the smart port and maritime research, as well as virtual and augmented reality;
  • bioeconomics, agriculture, as well as the digitalisation of small and medium-sized enterprises.

At the end of this year, LIAA plans to launch a digitalisation voucher programme that will provide businesses with up to EUR 100,000 in support for the introduction of various technological solutions including 5G.

Not only does Latvia have talent and potential, but Latvia is turning them into reality!

If anybody thinks that Latvia still has a long way to go in this regard, then I would like to highlight Latvian businesses that have already taken one step into the future. Of course, when it comes to the development of the smart city, sensors and sensor systems are fundamentally important. In Latvia, one active company in this field is Adventum Tech, whose product Liveload is a measuring device that measures the burden carried by load-bearing structures and sends the information received to the company’s “cloud” for further data processing. The processed data show the burden of buildings’ load-bearing structures, as well as their excess load, if such exists, which ultimately provides construction engineers with a complete picture of the behaviour of the structures they are supervising. Needless to say, this is of vital importance.

Senior Researcher and CEO of the Institute of Electronics and Computer Science (IECS), Modris Greitāns explains that digital technologies, including 5G communications, have great potential in many realms of the economy, and that for many years now the IECS has been working on their development and application. Solutions are being created, which in future will make it possible to reduce the number of road traffic accident victims, thanks to the development of connected and automated mobility solutions, as well as increasing competitiveness within manufacturing through the involvement of industrial and service robots, along with other solutions in which 5G or Internet of Things communications will play a major role.

In 2016, EDI demonstrated the first self-driving car in Latvia, but now, six years later, the institute’s experts are already working on a synchronised vehicle management system that is based on 5G technology. Work has begun on a robot swarm solution that will enable them to navigate and perform tasks in a dynamically changing surrounding environment. With a view to developing the next generation’s 5G applications, the institute has developed a programmable radio-based 5G test bed platform with functionality that will only become commercially available during the next few years.

On the subject of the development of 5G and car sharing, one must mention getUgo, which is developing a vehicle remote control system solution, which makes it possible to control a car or equipment unit remotely, for example, from an office or call centre.

In the field of smart ports and marine research, 5G plays a huge role in the optimisation of terminal operations, e.g. in the coordination and synchronisation of freight, container and passenger flows and in the optimisation of shipping traffic, improving operational decision-making, taking weather conditions and visibility into account, along with risks of non-standard situations, possible alternative routes, as well as monitoring the marine environment and researching maritime processes.

According to the Free Port of Riga Authority’s Senior IT Specialist Deniss Bičkovs, the new solutions are currently being introduced and are operational in the majority of the world’s ports. For example, ports are monitored with the help of drones, artificial intelligence is being introduced,  security risk analysis is being conducted, etc. All these solutions require stable and high speed data transmission. It is vital that Latvia’s ports do not lag behind other ports, and, of course, they must strive to be the leaders in the introduction of digital maritime solutions, in order to improve the efficiency of port operations, to increase cargo handling speed, and to ensure that our ports are environmentally friendly and safe.

As we see, there are no shortage of positive examples of the introduction of new digital innovations in Latvia. At the same time, one must understand that we should not fear the unknown (the unknown in this case meaning 5G), instead we should master it and optimally introduce it into our lives so that they move forward on an upward development curve. It looks as if 5G already is and could continue to be Latvia’s success story.

Author: Andrejs Berdņikovs, Head of the Investment and Development Agency of Latvia's Technology Business Centre and Latvia's delegate to the European Space Agency's Industrial Policy Committee
Publicity Photo: Andrejs Berdņikovs

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