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Multi-city 5G testbed launched in the UK

They will stage a large-scale pilot as part of the Government’s Urban Connected Communities Project

The city of Birmingham will be home to one of the 5G hubs
The city of Birmingham will be home to one of the 5G hubs

The West Midlands in the UK has been chosen as the country’s first multi-city 5G test bed. Hubs in the cities of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton will stage a large-scale pilot as part of the Government’s Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in its 5G Testbed and Trials programme.


The region was chosen through open competition and 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.


Paving the way for future roll-out


The multi-million pound trial of new high speed connectivity will pave the way for the future roll-out of 5G across the UK. 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.

“To deliver the future of these industries we need the power of 5G”

Minister for Digital, Margot James, said the West Midlands Combined Authorities bid has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors, with “an 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, for example, 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 behaviour. Intelligent cameras using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify incidents could provide the opportunity for far greater coverage than is possible at present.

The Minster added that autonomous vehicles will transform the way we travel, helping to prevent major accidents, improve traffic flow and reducing energy consumption. The WMCA will partner with Jaguar Land Rover to facilitate real-world testing of driverless cars.


“To deliver the future of these industries we need the power of 5G,” said Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands.


He added: “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 our 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.”


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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