Canada needs innovation at the network level. Meet the group that’s galvanizing it

The CEO of the recently-formed Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN) talks to expertIP about its mission to empower SMEs

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If Canada is serious about expanding its next generation network (NGN), it’s time to get the show on the road, according to a new consortium of major telecom players.

First, the back story. The Centre of Excellence in Next Generation Networks (CENGN) was created in November to accelerate commercialization of NGN technology and solutions. Based in Ottawa, its partners hail from academia, research and industry including Allstream, Cisco and several other vendors. The various partners are kicking in money, mentorship and in-kind resources like equipment; the feds are kicking in $11.7 million over five years.

CENGN’s core mandate is to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) innovate and bring NGN solutions to market faster.

“Right now (SMEs) are basically left almost on their own with some assistance from a few programs. But typically it’s just money from a few universities to help with their research. I don’t know if that’s the right model,” CENGN’s CEO Ritch Dusome told me in a recent interview.

Chosen SMEs will receive $50,000 to $100,000 worth of commercialization support for their projects. That includes access to marketing and research resources, a new Ottawa lab to test and certify their technologies, and established industry mentors who can offer advice and connections.

“If we connect a SME that has a solution to a real problem (with an industry leader), that will be more successful than a SME going off on their own,” said Dusome. “A lot of SMEs don’t have access to those large companies to (help) get their company known.”

That’s where the roadshow comes into play. CENGN is hosting events in five Canadian cities where SMEs can find out more about the program and network with CENGN partner firms. Besides helping the SMEs go to market, the project is also designed to help the industry partners find NGN innovations that complement their own products and services.

“We’ll be taking industry issues, shopping them around and seeing if we can connect the dots with the SMEs that are out there,” Dusome said. “We met with each of (the industry partners) and asked what are their pain points, what they would like to hear back on from the SMEs.”

CENGN is seeking project proposals in areas such as the Internet of Things, data centre/cloud, security, network applications, network mobility, network transport, software defined network (SDN) and network function virtualization (NFV).

This isn’t just a meet-and-greet make-work project for startups. Canada really does need to get moving on NGN. According to the broadband advocacy group OpenMedia, the federal government recently missed a deadline – set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in 2011 – to provide all Canadians with 5 Mbps broadband access by 2015. Last April, the government pushed the target date back to 2019 instead.

Figures compiled by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development suggest Canada’s access target is much lower and way later than ones set by other OECD nations.

Roadshow stops have been happening in Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Ottawa, with Toronto scheduled for later this week. Dusome said CENGN may also host a Webinar and additional roadshow stops on the east and west coasts. SMEs can already find information on CENGN’s website about how to apply for the program by the Feb. 27 deadline.

Stay tuned, we’ll bring you a fly-on-the-wall report from the CENGN Toronto roadshow in the near future. 


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