Zú, Telus team up on cutting-edge 5G ‘creative hub’ for Quebec artists

Montreal's Zú and Telus are set to open the first 5G laboratory in Canada entirely devoted to the creative and entertainment industries

Francois Gratton, left, who runs Telus Quebec, and Zú general manager Guillaume Thérien look a the progress at the site of the new 5G Telus lab on Tuesday. The downtown facility will welcome its first participants by the end of the year, says Thérien. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

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One of Guy Laliberté’s latest ventures is joining forces with Canadian telecommunications giant Telus to help visual artists and other creators tap the power of fifth-generation mobile networks.

Zú, the non-profit organization the Cirque du Soleil founder set up after selling control of his company, is putting together the finishing touches on what will be the first experimental 5G laboratory in Canada entirely devoted to the creative and entertainment industries. The downtown facility, which doubles as a startup incubator of sorts, will welcome its first participants by the end of the year, said Guillaume Thérien, Zú’s general manager.

“We see ourselves as a creative hub,” Thérien said in an interview. “Our goal is to help Quebec creators in entertainment, arts and culture. We are going to support them in their creative process and help them structure their businesses by putting all the necessary resources at their disposal. We want them to take their ideas and make them real.”

Telus will provide management time, equipment such as antennas and servers, and about $2.5 million over 10 years to install and maintain a 5G mobile network inside historic Maison Alcan — the heritage complex on Sherbrooke St. that Zú calls home — as part of a long-term commitment to Quebec. It will use the space as a testing ground for new technology, said François Gratton, who runs Telus Quebec.

Mobile telephone companies across Canada are gearing up for the arrival of 5G, the fifth-generation cellular technology that will make wireless networks several times faster and enable the transmission of vast amounts of data. It will be used for a range of applications that include remote surgeries, self-driving cars and virtual reality.

“5G will impact how people live and consume,” Gratton said in the joint interview with Thérien. “Our goal is to stay close to what’s new. We want to understand how 5G will be applied to entertainment and media. We’re here to learn about what’s coming next and how to structure our future investments.”

While Telus is based in Vancouver, the company has more than 6,000 employees in Quebec. The figure includes hundreds of Montreal area engineers and technicians who focus on network planning, with 5G a particular area of interest, Gratton said.

Located on the fourth floor of Maison Alcan, the 5G Telus Lab will feature 93 workstations, five conference rooms and a multitude of brainstorming spaces, lounges and video editing stations. Zú expects to host 55 different projects as soon as next year, and the lab could conceivably have as many as 300 members by then, Thérien said.

(Though Laliberté founded Zú, he is not involved in the day-to-day running of the organization.)

Creators will be able to rent space inside the lab and experiment with state-of-the-art technologies such as augmented reality, three-dimensional holograms and live streaming in 4K, also known as ultra-high-definition television.

They will also have access to a pool of experts in fields including accounting, business development, legal affairs, storytelling and technology.

“The lab is open to all creators,” Thérien said. “Whether they’re at the start of the creation phase or ready to enter commercialization, they will be welcome.”

To demonstrate 5G’s creative capabilities, Zú is launching a call for projects via its website. Entries will be evaluated by an independent selection committee made up of experts from academia and various industries, and the winners will get to work in the lab for 12 weeks, free of charge, Thérien said.

“5G is coming to Canada, and we want to show concretely what it can do,” he said.