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August 31, 2021

5G Smart Railway Hackathon - looking back and, always, forward




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Milena Ninova

Innovation Programme & Service Design Manager

The 5G Smart Railway Hackathon came to its culmination at the end of June 2021

We are celebrating the winning team Nife Labs and their smart AR solution, right before the start of the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona in July. The hackathon program was part of the 5G Railway Lab in Barcelona and it was fully designed and facilitated by the WorldStartup Lab unit.

What is 5G Barcelona?

5G Barcelona is a strategic alliance between the public sector and private businesses, creating an open digital hub for: creating a boost around the 5G industry to encourage fast implementation, favouring the range of innovative applications and services that use 5G and to generating improvements that have an impact on society and offer new opportunities to businesses.

The initiative is supported by the Generalitat de Catalunya, Barcelona City Council, Mobile World Capital Barcelona, i2CAT, CTTC, Atos and the UPC.

What is the 5G Railway Lab?

Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC), together with 5G Barcelona partners, launches one of the world’s first 5G railway laboratories:

• Key train stations (Pl. Espanya-Europa Fira) cover one of the first stretches of indoor railway in the world to be equipped with commercial 5G technology

• The first pilot project of the 5G Railway Lab is a 3D volumetric assistant with information about the Mobile World Congress 2021

• The infrastructure is permanently installed so that FGC and other companies can test new 5G applications in a real setting

What was the 5G Smart Railway Hackathon like?

WorldStartup Lab’s hackathon goes through 4 stages. First we have the program preparation and challenge definition workshops with the partners to ensure a concrete problem focus and potential follow up opportunities.

Secondly, a support program for the participants in an online collaborative space with exclusive resources and tools within the WorldStartup platform. 4 weeks program that equips the teams with tips and tricks on how to “Analyse” the context efficiently, how to “Ideate” even in a strict time-frame, how to “Conceptualize” the key aspects of their solution and how to “Convince” the jury that they can build a positive impact.

The main Hackathon weekend, starting with an inspirational kick-off event, offering a variety of professional mentors and a fun and constructive pitch event to select the best idea and celebrate. Last but not least, post-support solutions summary for the challenge owners, as well as a project handover roadmap workshop to help the winning team align with the challenge owners on next steps towards testing and implementation.

The ambition

The goal of this specific 5G Smart Railway Hackathon was to provide awareness about the specifications, advantages and limitations of the new technology as well as to improve and bring a new life to a well established transportation system such as the railway. The results aimed to promote more sustainable public means of transportation while accommodating it to the current changing safety and comfort standards.

The challenge question

During the hackathon, multidisciplinary teams and startups tackled the challenge shared by Mobile World Capital & FGC (Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya)

“How can we help the visitors to experience a more pleasant and inspiring customer train journey from Plaza España to Europa Fira by creating a 5G continuous interaction utilizing both public and private devices inside and outside of stations and trains on the way to the venue when they are searching for information on updates on the agenda of events or for educative tourist information about the city instead of relying on their own research proactivity?”
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The participants’ impressions

This single-challenge hackathon had 7 Teams with 24 Participants from 7 Countries (Turkey, UK, Spain, India, Germany, Singapore, Costa Rica).

WorldStartup Lab also facilitates hackathons with a greater number of challenges with anywhere between 3-8 teams per topic.

We are always striving to improve and we're happy to hear from our mentors and participants, who rated very positively the organization and communication around the events. Here is what they liked the most about the 5G Smart Railway Hackathon:

“The seamless pitches with the feedback though some of us had network challenges”
“It was my first experience in a hackathon help me learn things and gave me a chance to join professional competition"
“The opportunity to deploy 5G IoT solution”

What is the 5G Smart Railway Hackathon winning solution for 2021?

Nida Sahar, Bjas Murthy and Afzal Jan have presented a smart tourism business solution using AR. Augmented Reality is an emerging technology finding its way into various industries.

The solution makes use of multiple sensors from the railway infrastructure which are combined with data from events and touristic sights in and around Barcelona. The results are displayed in multiple ways using the high speed 5G network of Vodafone Spain. The Nife Labs team stood out by sharing the most promising vision of displaying events on AR screens and by being able to channel their creativity and adaptability to the Barcelona context.

To get a glimpse of Nife’s solution idea, check out this video from the 5GSRH Pitch event.

"5G Smart Railways hackathon ensured we interact with the right stakeholders and get customer insights. The team at WorldStartup did a great job with planning, passing the right information and onboarding us. It was very competitive, many relevant solutions unfolded, but we were ecstatic to be announced as a winner".

About Nife

Nife is an application distribution platform which allows developers to seamlessly deploy applications near to the end user directly via Nife platform or any cloud service provider. Nife executes these applications close to end users through a mesh of globally connected servers - auto scaling and optimizing cost and performance as per use case.

Introduction to Nife video.

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The hackathon program was part of the 5G Railway Lab in Barcelona and it was fully designed and facilitated by the WorldStartup Lab unit.

What is the next step?

Mobile World Capital and Ferrocarril de la Generalitat de Catalunya are eager to collaborate with the Nife Labs team to work towards piloting their business solution for improving customer experience of event visitors and tourists using the railway system in Barcelona. The pilot project aims to be implemented for various key events in 2022.

Why does the future of 5G technology in railway transportation matter?

However, controversial at first sight, the 5G technology offers a new safer and faster exchange of data. It can drastically contribute to time- and resource-savings for both railway transportation users and management.

Our collaboration strives to be part of programmes working towards impact in areas of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). We, at WorldStartup Lab and our partners, believe in the power of co-creation between governments, organizations, businesses and the public to accelerate innovation and transition to a more sustainable future.

We see 5g mobility possibilities for real time information on the best travel options, or for building upon a more trustworthy stream of information on the influences of this next generation technology. It can also create bigger exposure to local cultural and educational events (SDG 4). Last but not least important, it is part of the movement towards the facilitation of use of more sustainable group means of transportation (GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) which can in return offer additional support to local businesses and artists alongside selected travel routes.

More initiatives and Contact

If you would like to share with us more innovative ideas on how 5G can improve on railway or other public transport mobility problems, reach out to‍

Make sure to subscribe to our newsletter to stay updated on new coming up opportunities and to keep track of the 5G Railway Nife labs pilot project.

If you interested in hosting a hackathon or in collaborating with WorldStartup Lab on explorative business design programmes, feel free to also reach out to

Before this opening trip, Marta Subirà, chairwoman of FGC emphasised that “ The new features provided by 5G will improve the travel experience of our customers, with uninterrupted, faster connections, and also improve the operation and functionality of our trains. 5G allows us to be more efficient because we will be able to anticipate more situations and act to deal with them. Therefore, 5G in Railways is not only a fundamental technological improvement on an operational level, but also allows us to provide an even better service to users by offering high-quality public transport, continuing to fight climate change and helping to improve air quality in our cities”.

According to Carlos Grau, CEO of Mobile World Capital Barcelona: “5G is an enabling technology for new, yet to be discovered services.”

Likewise, Laia Bonet, third deputy mayor of Barcelona City Council, remarked that “with projects like this, Barcelona wants to become a European benchmark in the development of 5G technology. This is becoming possible thanks to the partnership between public and private actors, between the Catalan and municipal administrations, within the framework of the 5G Barcelona initiative. The impact of 5G on the economy and the lives of citizens will be enormous. We need to develop this technology to make our companies more efficient and competitive, but also to ensure that this technology offers new opportunities and does not generate new inequalities”.

For his part, Diego Presa, the Vodafone regional director for Catalonia and Aragon, commented that “the welcome to this MWC is provided by the first volumetric assistant in the form of an augmented reality hologram, a first step in testing massive public access to stations and sending high quality content through the cloud. A solution that benefits from the capabilities of the 5G network and that we anticipate will become the indispensable tool for control and identification in the accesses to places such as transport hubs, trains, massive events...”

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