Phil Kemp, chief executive of Bruntwood Sci-Tech, said the joint venture with institutional investor Legal & General is in talks to tap into the £50m West Midlands 5G pilot established by UK Government last autumn.
“We’re very keen, with Aston University and Birmingham City University,” Kemp explained. “To run a test bed in Birmingham’s knowledge quarter because we think 5G will be quite disruptive to the mobility business model and we would have an opportunity to attract people into the knowledge quarter to work on that disruption.”
In 2015, Manchester Science Partnerships, now part of Bruntwood Sci-Tech, was in the consortium that won £10m from the Government’s Innovate UK agency to run a two-year pilot on internet of things for cities. The programme, CityVerve, was based at Bruntwood Sci-Tech’s Bright Building in Manchester and included Cisco among the partners.
West Midlands Combined Authority was successful in securing the 5G testbed funding from Department for Culture Media + Sport in September 2018. An initial £25m is available across Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, with the same amount of money again potentially being released if the business case is made. The scheme has a focus on “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.”
The Innovation Birmingham science park was acquired by Bruntwood from the local council last year and came with development land next to 100,000 sq ft of existing commercial space.
L+G and Bruntwood have ambitious plans to expand their initial £360m portfolio, spread across the North West, Yorkshire and Midlands, to new regions and an asset value of £1.2bn in five years andup to £2.8bn in 10 years. Kemp said sites in cities new to Bruntwood have been identified but declined to give details.
Kemp worked at Nokia for 14 years before spending three years at Regus and then joining Bruntwood at the start of 2017. He believes 5G could potentially revolutionise transport services if the mobile spectrum is opened to non-telecoms firms as is rumoured to be on the cards with ministers.
He explained: “The key thing is to not just look at it as a capacity upgrade because it also improves latency [load time] and what it starts to open up is the ability for any device to connect through the network. In a world of IoT, all those devices, whether it’s your fridge or autonomous vehicles, will all be communicating through 5G. There will just be an explosion of devices that are connecting because of the bandwidth that it brings and, because of that, it creates the mobility angle that you couldn’t get with a fixed network.”
Kemp added: “The disruptive part is the potential for the Government to offer spectrum up to not just the mobile operators but to other companies so that they could potentially create their own mini-5G networks. I think that there is a certain layer within the communications stack where you could actually start to innovate with new applications. It would start to disrupt the standard industry model. You’ve got Huawei, Nokia, Ericsson producing kit; they sell it into the Vodafones and O2s of this world; these guys own the spectrum, they buy the kit and then all of us, as consumers, buy mobile devices – a very orderly way of managing things. If you suddenly disrupt that by saying actually anybody can be a spectrum holder, anyone can operate a network, you start to develop apps that run on devices that interact in a slightly different way, suddenly that old order of mobile network operator and equipment manufacturer starts to look a bit different.”
Could Bruntwood Sci-Tech one day move visitors and customers around between cities – transport as a service? If it wins its 5G bid it could be one step closer to such a scenario becoming reality.