West Midlands will be UK's 5G test bed

7 September 2018   By Jo Bailey

The West Midlands will host the UK Government's Urban Connected Communities Project.

Following a bidding process, the West Midlands has been chosen as the Government's test bed for large scale 5G. The Urban Connected Communities Project will roll out 5G across the region, allowing various innovations and technology to be tested out in real life situations.

The multi-million pound trail will pave the way for the rollout of 5G across the UK. It will be the first time 5G has been trialled at multi-city level and will provide valuable insight into the potential for this technology nationwide.

Minister for Digital, Margot James, said that, "5G has the potential to dramatically transform the way we go about our daily lives". She reiterated the government's commitment to ensuring the UK citizens were among the first to experience it, and said this test bed will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world.

5g hand over city

Selecting the UK's test bed

The Government held an open competition to bid to become the ground-breaking test bed of 5G for the UK. In March 2018, the government invited proposals from UK cities for the project and has since been reviewing submissions to find the best ideas to take forward.

The West Midlands Combined Authorities (WMCA) bid beat off competition from Aberdeen, Leeds, Glasgow and Sheffield to become the UK's first test bed. Their bid focused on health care, automotive and construction sectors, aiming to drive economic growth and transform public services.

As part of the project, 5G hubs will be formed in Wolverhampton, Coventry and Birmingham, providing coverage across the entire region.

The Urban Connected Communities Project

This latest project is a stepping stone in the Government's wider 5G Testbed and Trials Programme, part of the Industrial Strategy which is looking to drive forward the infrastructure of the future. Dubbed the Urban Connected Communities Project, WMCA will receive up to £50m of investment to develop 5G under this project.

Of the funds invested, £25m will come from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) with a further £25m match funded by local partners. The DCMS funding is part of the £200m that the government has committed to developing 5G technology.

Developing revolutionary technology projects

Once 5G is in place, testing can begin on some of the ground-breaking technology which will become possible thanks to this new generation of connectivity. Some of the projects in the pipeline include:

  • Video links in ambulances: Video conferencing tech in ambulances will allow specialists and doctors to provide advice and support to paramedics on route to hospital
  • Online consultations: It is hoped that emergency consultations with GPs can be carried out via video link also
  • Driverless cars: WMCA plan to work with Jaguar Land Rover to develop autonomous vehicles and driverless cars
  • Live streaming to police: Plans are in place to fit web connected CCTV on busses, with the capability to livestream antisocial behaviour incidents as they happen
  • Improved traffic management: It's hoped that by using connected traffic management systems, traffic flow can be better managed, congestion reduced, and accidents minimised

There are many more applications of 5G which will be tested and trailed over the coming years in the West Midlands. For those hoping for early 5G connections for their mobile phones, however, this is unlikely to happen.

When will 5G happen on our smartphones?

Back in April, Vodafone, O2, Three and EE all won enough of the bandwidth allocation at a high profile auction to allow 5G to be provided to their customers. However, rollout is expected to take some time, and is not anticipated until at least 2020.

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