UK’s First Multi-City 5G Test Bed to be Developed in the West Midlands Region

The UK govt. under its ambitious 5G project, has selected the West Midlands region for the nation’s first multi-city 5G test bed. The Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in the Government’s 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme will develop a large-scale, 5G pilot across the region, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

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

According to the Minister for Digital, UK, Margot James, 5G has the potential to dramatically transform daily lives, and the govt. thus wants 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 realize this ambition.

Following its selection through an open competition, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will now work with the 5G Testbeds and Trials Team at the 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 Authorities 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 caretaker to help inform their care.
  • “Connected Ambulances” - Paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice while they are at the scene, ex. 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 against anti-social behavior. “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 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.

According to Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, the announcement is game-changing for the West Midlands economy and will be the backbone of their future economy and society. The region has 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. The potential of 5G technology is endless – and West Midlands is set to enjoy the benefits first. From monitoring the health of babies and the elderly, to the way people are linked to the economy of the future, the way companies do business, the way public services are delivered, the experience of travelers on public transport and the way the region delivers City of Culture and the Commonwealth Games – everything can be made better thanks to the power of 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 £1 billion of investment in next-generation digital infrastructure, including via the £31 billion 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.