As a sign that the fifth generation of cellular networking continues to make progress toward mass deployment, one region of England has been selected to become the UK’s first multi-city 5G test area.
The UK government announced Sept. 4 that the West Midlands region—spanning the cities of Birmingham, Coventry, and Wolverhampton—is the UK’s first region that is ready to trial new 5G applications and services at scale.
Up to 50 million euros has been made available for the “Urban Connected Communities Project”, which is the next step in the UK government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Program. It includes 25 million euros from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS), and a matching 25 million euros in funding from regional partners. An additional 25 million euros may be made available later.
The West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was chosen following an open competition. Its 5G bid has an initial focus on the health, construction, and automotive sectors, with its overall goal set to help “drive economic growth and benefit people’s lives through participation in new digital technologies and digitally transformed public services,” according to the UK government.
“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,” said UK Minister for Digital Margot James. “The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realize this ambition.”
The WMCA will now work with the 5G Testbeds and Trials Team at the DCMS on preparing a formal business case for approval, with the first of a series of projects is expected to go live early in 2019. Those initial plans include providing video link for hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations; “Connected Ambulances” that enable paramedic crews to video conference with consultants or clinical specialists when at an incident, as well as live streaming of patient data from ambulance en route to hospital; and live streaming of CCTV footage from public transportation buses, aimed to enable immediate action against “anti-social behavior.”
The UK government also mentioned that the WMCA will partner with Jaguar Land Rover to facilitate real-world testing of driverless cars, which were noted as being able to prevent major accidents, improve traffic flow, and reduce energy consumption.
“The potential of this technology is endless–and we will enjoy the benefits first,” said Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands. “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 travelers 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.”