Birmingham Bullring West Midlands 5G testbed

West Midlands chosen as UK’s first multi-city 5G testbed

Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton are to welcome the government’s 5G Testbed & Trials Programme, in the largest test of 5G connectivity in the UK to date.

The Urban Connected Communities Project will develop a large-scale 5G pilot across the region, with up to £50m currently available for the project. This includes £25m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and £25m from regional partners. An additional £25m may be made available at a later stage.

Following its selection through open competition, the West Midlands Combined Authority will now work with 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 Authority bid had an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors. Proposals include “connected ambulances”, providing paramedic crews access to specialist advice while they are at the scene, such as video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists.

Also outlined are plans for live streaming of CCTV footage from public transport buses, enabling immediate action against anti-social behaviour: “intelligent cameras” would use artificial intelligence to identify incidents.

The West Midlands Combined Authory will also 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 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 £200m that the Government has assigned to develop 5G technologies as part of more than £1bn of investment in next-generation digital infrastructure.

Minister for digital, Margot James, said of the project: “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.”

Earlier in the month, the Government also launched a search for companies to collaborate on a trial of 5G connectivity on the TransPennine Railway line between Leeds and Manchester, as part of the Government’s Northern Powerhouse plans.

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