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


The West Midlands has been selected to become the innovative home to the UK’s first multi-city 5G testbed, with the region to pilot new high-speed connectivity applications and services at scale, including the real-world testing of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs).

The Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in the UK government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Program, will develop a large-scale, 5G pilot across the region, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton, paving the way for the future roll-out of 5G across the UK.

Up to £50m (US$64.6m) is currently available for the project, subject to further development and approval of the business plan. This includes £25m (US$32.3m) 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. Following its selection through 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 WMCA bid has an initial focus on the health 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;

• ‘Connected Ambulances’, with paramedic crews at an incident able to access specialist advice while they are at the scene, and live streaming of patient data from ambulance on route to hospital;

• Live streaming of CCTV footage from public transport buses, enabling immediate action against anti-social behavior;

• ‘Intelligent CCTV cameras’ using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify incidents on roads and streets that could provide the opportunity for far greater coverage than is possible at present;

• With autonomous vehicles due to transform the way people travel, preventing major accidents, improving traffic flow, and reducing energy consumption, the WMCA will partner with Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) to facilitate real-world testing of driverless cars.

“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 among the first to experience all the opportunities and benefits this new technology will bring,” explained UK Minister for Digital Margot James. “The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realize this ambition.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said, “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. To deliver the future, we need the power of 5G. The potential of this technology is endless. From the way companies do business, the way we deliver public services, the experience of travelers on public transport; everything can be made better thanks to the power of this technology.” 

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).