With 5G on the horizon, CENGN gears up for Ottawa summit


For the Ottawa-based Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks, success is all about connections and networking. That’s true of its technical side – as a platform for its startup and enterprise partners to experiment with the latest in 5G technology – as well as for its upcoming summit, where the organization looks to connect Canada’s key stakeholders in industry, academia and government to advance networking across the country.

CENGN – colloquially pronounced sen-jen – is gearing up for its annual summit on Nov. 13 at the Brookstreet Hotel. As the conference gets ready to welcome the likes of Bruce Ross, CTO of RBC, and Amy Radin, a lauded innovation adviser to some of the world’s biggest firms, chief executive Jean-Charles Fahmy took time to reflect with Techopia on how far the organization has come in recent months.

CENGN’s mission, at its base level, is to spur growth in Canada’s telecom industry through its testbed platform. Essentially, the many partners that make up the CENGN ecosystem – from major enterprises the likes of Bell Canada, Nokia and Mitel to academic institutions and burgeoning startups – can come to the organization to test out new technologies with the scale enabled by CENGN’s advanced platform.

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Access to 5G-ready technology is critical for these companies to prepare their products for the coming wave of advanced networking. Experts say the leap from 4G to 5G networking will fully enable advanced technologies such as autonomous vehicles and improve access to high-speed connectivity in rural regions of the world.

Beyond telecom

Thanks to funding from the Ontario government’s next-generation networking program, the past year has seen CENGN expand its test bed to four data centres across the province: one at CENGN’s HQ in the Kanata tech park, one down the road at Bayview Yards and two others in the innovation centres at Communitech in Waterloo and MaRS in Toronto.

While Fahmy says building up these networking hubs is important ahead of widespread 5G networking deployment, CENGN is also eyeing more remote applications for its technology. He says the organization is currently setting up a wireless testbed in a Sudbury mine, which will allow networking companies targeting the mining sector to test their tech in a live setting – a key step in commercializing their products.

Fahmy says 5G technology won’t just affect the telecom sector; in order to fully prepare Canadian industries for the coming disruption, CENGN is looking to bring its testing solution to sectors such as mining, agriculture and manufacturing.

“We’re going to do more of this kind of thing,” Fahmy says.

The CENGN summit will have a networking tech showcase set up between panels and keynotes for anyone looking to get up close and personal with 5G. Fahmy says the goal of the conference is not just to talk in hypotheticals about future advancements, but to give attendees a practical look at the technology itself.

Connecting people

Aside from the technical side of its mission, CENGN also looks to prepare the telecom workforce for a rapidly evolving industry.

This starts with post-secondary students through CENGN’s co-op program. While Ottawa’s local universities and colleges provide a breadth of background in networking technologies to engineering graduates, Fahmy says the students CENGN works with often need more specialized skills in order to step into a role with a multinational such as Nokia right out of school.

CENGN’s other focus is on professionals already in the industry that need to brush up on their skills. Keeping talent up to speed on the latest in networking isn’t always possible in the workplace, so CENGN acts as a supplement for existing technical workers.

Fahmy says that a lack of well-equipped talent is a looming fear in the telecom industry, one that CENGN’s partners worry could hamper growth and limit Canada’s ability to compete in the sector.

“One of the key values that they see in the engagement with CENGN is the ability to have access to a pipeline of talent that goes through our program,” Fahmy says.

The upcoming CENGN summit is another attempt to bolster the people side of 5G. Fahmy says the top feedback CENGN hears about at its summit is the quality of attendees – the chance for telecom execs and workers to network with policymakers in government is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.

With last year’s summit bringing out 350 attendees and organizers expecting as many as 500 for this year’s instalment, CENGN is proving its ability to build effective networks goes beyond just 5G tech.

“Our mission is to accelerate the success of the ICT sector in Canada. A lot of that comes through connections within the ecosystem. And we want this summit to be a core element of that,” Fahmy says.

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