West Midlands topples 20 rival bids to become UK’s first 5G test area

The West Midlands has won the battle to become Britain’s 5G testbed after the government announced the region has won the contract to develop new wireless technology services.

Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton will all become 5G “hubs” with Up to £50m provided by ministers to develop services outside the commercial realm ahead of network launches. A further £25m will be made available at a later stage with opportunities available for the private sector to invest.

The Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in the Government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will now work with teams at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and industry partners on preparing the formal business case for approval. The first of a series of projects is expected to go live early next year.

Plans are in place for “connected ambulances” in which paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice while they are at the scene, via video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists. Live streaming of patient data from ambulance enroute to hospital could also help inform the immediate care patients receive on arrival.

Commenting on the contract award, Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands, said: “This announcement is game-changing for the West Midlands economy. This will be the backbone of our future economy and society. The West Midlands has beaten over 20 cities to win the government’s 5G testbed. This is a game changing development, supercharge our industries of the future, like driverless vehicles and life sciences.”

The West Midlands saw off competition from Leeds, Sheffield, Aberdeen and Glasgow. Trials will include hospital outpatient appointments conducted over high-speed video links. New technology will also boost the West Midlands bid to be at the forefront of driverless car technology in the world. 

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.”

The new technology will also boost the West Midlands bid to be at the forefront of driverless car technology in the world. Ambulances will also be able to hooked up to NHS servers allowing paramedics to get specialist advice at the scene.”

The 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme forms part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, aimed at continually driving the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and investing in the skills, industries and infrastructure of the future.

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