A new technology hub backed by big names like Intel and NASA will fund startups in health care, retail, transportation and energy — as long as they harness 5G networks.
The 5G Open Innovation Lab, in partnership with Bellevue-based T-Mobile, the University of Washington and the City of Bellevue, will connect 5G startups with investors and technology labs to test their products.
Applications for startups open this month, and the lab is slated to open in January. The list of financial partners has not been announced yet.
The partnership aims to encourage the growth of the 5G sector in the region by providing funding for startups and creating a pipeline for jobs for students interested in working with 5G. The lab is for investors and early- to late-stage startups to create and market 5G-capable products.
Jim Brisimitzis, general partner of the lab, pointed to Seattle’s booming cloud-tech industry as an added factor to power 5G startups here. In the 5G cellular technology that’s just beginning to be implemented in the United States, more data can travel at faster speeds than the current 4G LTE — for instance, downloading a movie to a phone could take seconds.
“The thing that I’m most interested in pursuing inside the lab is what are the new markets or new businesses could be created because of what 5G networks will be able to support,” Brisimitzis said. “5G is essentially a new, fresh perspective … and as a result of that we do expect that industries and job opportunities will change and evolve alongside them.”
The lab and its partners are part of an Innovation Partnership Zone (IPZ). Those are partnerships between the private sector, education institutions and municipal government to promote economic opportunities. Washington has designated 15 IPZs since 2007 to target such sectors as aerospace, agriculture and craft brewing.
The boundaries for the IPZ stretch from Seattle to Bellevue — where T-Mobile is headquartered and where the 5G Open Innovation Lab will likely live — and encompass the operations of many big technology companies like Microsoft and Intel.
The lab plans to seed roughly 15 to 20 startups every six months.
“This will undoubtedly attract global talent and investment into the Seattle region as these companies grow,” said T-Mobile’s Senior Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Jason Young, in a letter to the state’s Department of Commerce.
According to public records, T-Mobile will lead the IPZ’s 5G Hardware and Software Platform strategy, which would allow developers, students and academics to research and develop 5G-capable products.
T-Mobile has previously demonstrated its commitment to creating a 5G future. Its new device lab in downtown Bellevue tests 5G technology on primarily low-band spectrum, which would penetrate buildings and travel through long expanses of rural land more effectively than mid- or high-band. The driving force behind its pending merger with Sprint is the access to Sprint’s mid-band spectrum that carries more data at a faster speed.
Young called the company’s investment in 5G a “long-term, five-to-10 year strategy.”
As the education arm of the IPZ, the University of Washington’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with the school’s innovation hub, CoMotion, will help students build out 5G-capable products and understand what the impact of emerging industries will look like. The school will install 5G equipment for students to test their products on and connect with the IPZ’s partners.
Jesse Canedo, the chief economic-development officer for Bellevue, said, “From an economic development perspective, we’re looking for opportunities to support growth in the region to make sure that Bellevue and the wider region continue to be seen as a center for innovation.”
While it’s still too early to tell what kind of economic impacts the IPZ will have, Brisimitzis predicts the growth of 5G will be similar to the dot-com boom.
“If you were to — pre-Internet — think of random people wanting to make their homes available for sales to absolute strangers — I’m referring to Airbnb in this case — as being a viable, long-term business, you’d probably say that doesn’t make sense,” Brisimitzis said. “And look at where we are today.”