West Midlands to become UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed



The West Midlands has been selected to become the innovative home to the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed. The multi million pound trial of new high speed connectivity will pave the way for the future rollout of 5G across the UK, making the region the first in the UK ready to trial new 5G applications and services at scale. 

The Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in the Government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme, will develop a large-scale, 5G pilot across the region, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. 

Up to £50m is currently available for the project, subject to further development and approval of the business plan. This includes £25m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and a further £25m match funding from regional partners. An additional £25m may be made available at a later stage.

 

West Midlands to become UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed

Helen Gyves (left), lead nurse for Clinical IT at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital explains to Minister for Digital, Margot James and Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street how 5G technology will enable outpatient appointments to be carried out remotely

Minister for Digital, Margot James said: “5G has the potential to dramatically transform the way we go about our daily lives, and we want the citizens of the UK to be amongst the first to experience all the opportunities and benefits this new technology will bring.

"The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realise this ambition.” 

Following its selection through open competition, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will now work with the 5G Testbeds and Trials Team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and industry partners on preparing the formal business case for approval, with the first of a series of projects expected to go live early next year.

The West Midlands Combined Authority's (WMCA) bid has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors, with its overarching ambition to help drive economic growth and benefit people’s lives through participation in new digital technologies and digitally transformed public services. 

Subject to formal approval, initial plans include:

  • Hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations carried out remotely by video link not subject to droppage or latency barriers. As well as being more convenient for patients, this means they can play back their appointment at a later date or share it securely with a family member or carer to help inform their care.
  • “Connected Ambulances” - Paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice while they are at the scene, eg video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists. Live streaming of patient data from ambulance en route to hospital would help inform the immediate care patients receive on arrival.
  • Live streaming of CCTV footage from public transport buses, enabling immediate action to be taken against anti-social behaviour. “Intelligent cameras” using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify incidents could provide the opportunity for far greater coverage than is possible at present.
  • Autonomous vehicles will transform the way we travel, preventing major accidents, improving traffic flow and reducing energy consumption. The WMCA will partner with Jaguar Land Rover to facilitate real world testing of driverless cars.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said:“This announcement is game-changing for the West Midlands economy. This will be the backbone of our future economy and society.

“We have been working to put the foundations in place to grow the industries which will create the jobs of the future, particularly around driverless vehicles and life sciences where we have a genuine advantage. To deliver the future of these industries we need the power of 5g.

“The potential of this technology is endless  – and we will enjoy the benefits first.

"From monitoring the health of babies and the elderly, to the way out people are linked to the economy of the future, the way companies do business, the way we deliver public services, the experience of travellers on public transport and the way we deliver City of Culture and the Commonwealth Games – everything can be made better thanks to the power of this technology.” 

Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council and WMCA portfolio lead for economy and jobs, said: "We want to lead the way in 5G and the potential for this technology in the West Midlands is unlimited, which is why we're delighted with today's news. 

"The possibilities for businesses, individuals, investors and innovators are huge. Not only that, but imagine the difference having a fully operational 5G network in the West Midlands will have as we host the Commonwealth Games.

"The way people are consuming news and digital content is changing by the day and 5G gives Birmingham the opportunity to be the first city to host a major event using this technology."

DCMS funding for the project will come from the £200 million government has assigned  to develop 5G technologies as part of more than £1bn of investment in next-generation digital infrastructure, including via the £31bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF). 

The 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, aimed at continually driving the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and investing in the skills, industries and infrastructure of the future.

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