West Midlands selected for £50m 5G testbed

Connected ambulances, live streaming CCTV and driverless cars all part of initial plans  

The West Midlands has won funding to become the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed as part of a multi-million pound government initiative that is aimed at paving the way for the future rollout of 5G across the UK.

The Urban Connected Communities Project is the latest step in the government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme, and consists of a large-scale, 5G pilot across the West Midlands, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton. 

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will be providing £25m towards the project from the £200m government has assigned to development 5G technologies, with a further £25m coming from regional partners. The government said that an additional £25m may be available at a later stage. 

The bid from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors. The initial plans, which are subject to formal approval, include ensuring that hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations carried out remotely via video doesn’t suffer from any connectivity or latency issues. 

Another idea within the bid is to give paramedic crews ‘connected ambulances’ which would enable them to access specialist advice while they are at the scene – such as through video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists, while live streaming of patient data could be used to help inform doctors at the hospital of a patient’s immediate care needs. 

Live streaming could also be used, according to the WMCA, of CCTV footage from public transport buses, enabling law enforcement to tackle anti-social behaviour more swiftly. It claimed that ‘intelligent cameras’ using artificial intelligence to identify incidents could provide the opportunity for far grater coverage than is possible at present. 

WMCA will also be partnering with Jaguar Land Rover to test driverless cars.

The logic is that all of these use cases would not be possible without improved network connectivity – and the concept of 5G would help to provide that. 

“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,” said Margot James, the government minister for digital. 

Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, added:

“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 WMCA will now work with the 5G Testbeds and Trials Team at 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. 


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