Spark offers start-up funding for 5G innovation

With the Government's 5G spectrum auction this month and a full roll-out just months away, Spark is offering start-up funding to Kiwi innovators who have new ideas for 5G technology.

One New Zealand charity is already trialling the fifth-generation wireless technology to help connect children who are sick in hospital with their classmates at school.

When Ben Martel's son Liam became sick with cancer, one of the simple things he wanted was to be back in a classroom with his school mates. So his dad came up with the Patience Project.

Ben's solution was a 360-degree live-streaming camera set up in a classroom so a sick child can easily watch from home, or their hospital bed.

Teacher Julie Venter's year nine maths class trialled the technology last year, while a student recovered from a heart transplant.

"They would talk to her, ask her general questions typical to teenagers and talk to her about the maths problems they were trying to solve and make her feel like she was part of the class, which she was," she says.

Now Ben is working on the next stage of the technology in Spark's 5G lab.

A robotically-controlled device dubbed 'Virtual Me' will replace the classroom camera and enable two-way communication.

5G will mean a ten-times faster response time as well as the potential to move outside.

"This kid is socially isolated not through choice of their own, so if we can get them not only out of the classroom but into the playground and onto the school trip then that's only going to increase their sense of inclusion," Ben says.

It's the kind of Kiwi ingenuity that Spark is hoping to foster by launching a 5G starter fund, offering $500,000 to three companies.

"We want to reach out to those innovators and say 'come and join us, show us what you're thinking about', and then we'll help support that through the start-up fund," Spark CEO Jolie Hodson says

Ben lost his son Liam in 2016.

"I couldn't do this in time for my son but I know I'm making a difference to other kids," he says.

He hopes that difference will become even more meaningful by utilising the power of 5G.