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Government confirms West Midlands to become home to UK's first large-scale 5G test bed

The government has confirmed the West Midlands will be used to carry out the UK's first large-scale test of 5G technology, with trials centred on its use in the health, construction and automotive sectors

The West Midlands is set to become home to the UK’s first round of 5G trials, with connectivity hubs planned in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

The work will fall under the remit of the UK government’s Urban Connected Communities Project, and will see a large-scale 5G network rolled out a cross the three cities.

The decision to hold the trials in the region follows the submission of a bid by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), which will oversee the work along with the 5G test beds and trials team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

The WMCA’s bid focused on using the trials to support the work of organisations in the health, construction and automotive sectors to demonstrate how emerging technologies could benefit the economy and the quality of life of local residents.

For instance, the authority has designs on using the technology to allow people to attend hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations via video link, which they can then play back at a later date or securely share with a family member or carer.

Other proposed use cases include using 5G to provide paramedic crews with access to specialist advice from consultants and trauma specialists, via video link, when tending to emergency situations, or live-streaming CCTV footage from public buses to law enforcement offices to address anti-social behaviour.

West Midlands mayor Andy Street said securing the opportunity to trial 5G in the region would support its plans to embrace technologies that could help safeguard future economic growth.

“We want the citizens of the UK to be amongst the first to experience all the opportunities and benefits 5G will bring”
Margot James, minister for digital

“We have been working to put the foundations in place to grow the industries which will create the jobs of the future, particularly around driverless vehicles and life sciences where we have a genuine advantage. To deliver the future of these industries we need the power of 5G,” he said.

“From monitoring the health of babies and the elderly, to the way 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.”

At present, £50m has been set aside to finance the project, with DCMS and a number of regional partners splitting the bill. A further £25m, subject to business plan approval, could also be made available at a later date.

Margot James, the minister for digital, said the West Midlands project was the first of its kind in the world and had the potential to transform the daily lives of local residents.

“We want the citizens of the UK to be amongst the first to experience all the opportunities and benefits this new technology will bring,” she said. “The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realise this ambition.”

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