Government seeks major city to lead large-scale urban 5G test project

Conurbation of about 500,000 inhabitants sought to examine use of 5G-enabled tech in business and public services


The government is looking for a major city to serve as a large-scale urban testing environment for 5G network technology. 

The overarching aim of these tests will be to examine how the implementation of wireless 5G infrastructure could “make urban communities inherently safer, greener, more efficient and more attractive places to live”, the government said.  The project will test the use of 5G-enabled technologies in the delivery of public services, as well as in industries including media, entertainment, and manufacturing. 

It will particularly look to address problems caused by so-called pinch points – high-traffic areas such as train stations and central business and retail districts, where heavy usage can result in a lack of connectivity.

Uses of the technology likely to be explored as part of the test bed process include conducting GP consultations via video for patients that live in remote areas or have difficulty travelling. Another possible use case for 5G networks will be deploying sensors to monitor traffic and public transport, and using augmented or virtual reality to enhance visitor experience at tourist sites. Augmented reality, as well as robotics, will also be trialled in factory assembly lines to try and increase productivity, according to the government. 

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The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wants to hear from individual councils or combined authorities interested in leading the 5G project. The department is looking for authorities that serve an area containing “in the region of 500,000 people”. It will consider applications from cities with a smaller population than this if they can demonstrate “very strong, clear digital leadership and vision”. 

Digital minister Margot James said: “This is a huge opportunity for an urban area to become the flagship of our ambitious programme to make Britain fit for the future and a world leader in 5G. Trialling 5G at scale across an entire city is a chance to prove the economic benefits predicted from this new technology, test different methods of deployment, and boost the connectivity of ordinary people working and living there.”

Interested authorities have until 5 June to submit their bids to DCMS. Once a winner has been selected, which will likely be later in the summer, the department will then work with its chosen council to pick commercial partners to provide 5G network infrastructure and connectivity services. 

Between now and June the government will be running workshops which both local authorities and potential industry partners will be able to attend.

Later in 2018, the government will follow this urban testbed project with a similarly large-scale scheme designed to examine the use of 5G in rural communities.

If the government limits the potential candidates for the urban initiative to councils serving about 500,000 citizens, that would seem to restrict the possible location to just a handful of cities. Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, and Edinburgh could all be in the frame. Two mid-sized London boroughs working together could also fit the bill.

Funding for the project will come from a pot of £200m already set aside by the government to invest in 5G infrastructure. Last month six 5G test bed projects across the UK were picked to receive a cumulative total of £25m. 

Authorities wishing to bid can find more information here.


Sam Trendall

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