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West Midlands selected to host the UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed

The UK government has selected the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) to rollout the country's first multi-city 5G testbed.

As part of its winning bid to become a multi-city 5G testbed, the WMCA will receive £50 million in total for its ambitions.

£25 million will be supplied from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, while a further £25 million will come from partners trialling new 5G applications and services.

Digital Minister Margot James says:

“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.”

Initially, the focus will be on the automotive, health, and construction sectors as they are expected to deliver significant economic growth driven by 5G technology.

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. As well as being more convenient for patients, this means they can play back their appointment at a later date or share it securely with a family member or carer to help inform their care.

  • “Connected Ambulances” - Paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice while they are at the scene, eg video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists. Live streaming of patient data from the ambulance en route to a hospital would help inform the immediate care patients receive on arrival.

  • Live streaming of CCTV footage from public transport buses, enabling immediate action 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.

The three West Midlands cities taking part in the trial are Birmingham, Wolverhampton, and Coventry.

“This announcement is game-changing for the West Midlands economy,” said Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands. “This will be the backbone of our future economy and society.

In recent years, the UK government has made an effort to redistribute wealth over the country to reduce the divide between London and other cities. Part of its strategy has been to fund develop ‘hubs’ for new technologies.

The Midlands is establishing itself as somewhat of a hub for automotive technologies. Coventry is home to UK Autodrive, the largest of three government-backed initiatives for testing driverless vehicles.


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