Richard Granger, director general of NHS IT, made the announcement at the Healthcare Computing conference in Harrogate on 26 March.
He also announced that Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of US energy giant Halliburton, has won a £37m, three-year project management contract for the IT upgrade.
Granger said that having just five local service providers would allow a speedy procurement process while making the eventual contracts valuable enough to attract top-tier suppliers.
He warned that there would be no "preferred supplier" stage in the tendering process. "We will maintain competition until the contract is awarded," he said.
The local service provider for London and one other region should be announced by the end of October, with the remaining contracts awarded by the end of the year.
In a key part of his address, Granger tried to reassure IT professionals and IT-savvy clinicians that they were central to his plans. The NHS IT chief said claimed there had been "some mischief making" about the impact of his strategy on local projects.
"Be in no doubt, I understand you are essential to the delivery of this programme," he told the delegates.
Granger had a harsher message to IT suppliers, telling them, "Your customer has changed," urging them to raise their game and making veiled hints about the increased use of open source products in the new NHS IT programme.
One senior clinician welcomed Granger's reassurance to users, but added, "he couldn't say much else to this audience".
The real test, he added, would not be Granger's speeches but the attitude of Department of Health officials and local service providers towards local initiatives.
A local hospital IT manager from the south coast said, "whatever my reservations about this centralisation, at least the money earmarked for IT will be spent on IT and not swallowed up in the general budget as in the past."
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