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West Midlands wins 5G testbed funds


Mark Say Managing Editor

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The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has won £25 million from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to provide a testbed for uses of 5G networks.

The authority has indicated that developing new healthcare applications with 5G will be one of its priorities as part of the Government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme. 

It will match the funding from regional partners and possibly obtain another £25 million at a later stage to support a large scale pilot with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. 

WMCA was selected for the role through an open competition and will now work with the DCMS 5G Testbeds and Trials Team 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

Minister for Digital Margot James said: “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.” 

WMCA’s bid has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors.

Better video

Its plans include using 5G for video links for hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations. The technology holds the promise of preventing any droppage and removing latency of connections.

Another project will focus on ‘connected ambulances’, enabling paramedic crews to access advice from clinical specialists at the scene of an incident and to live stream patient data to hospitals.

There is also a focus on public transport with a plan for live streaming of CCTV footage from buses to guard 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.

WMCA also plans to work with Jaguar Land Rover on real world testing of driverless cars.

Endless potential

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street said: “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.” 

The DCMS funding will come from the £200 million assigned to develop 5G technologies as part of more than £1 billion of investment in next generation digital infrastructure.

The 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy.

Image from WMCA: Margot James (centre) and Andy Street at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital to hear how 5G technology will enable outpatient appointments to be carried out remotely.

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