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Mobile telecoms lab opens in UK West Midlands

New UK Telecoms Lab to be located in one of the UK’s fastest growing tech sectors, valued at £15.3bn, with the benefit of creating significant high-skilled, high-tech jobs

This year began with the UK’s West Midlands region seeing the start of a project by UK’s first 5G commercial application accelerator, setting out to explore the potential of mobile networks to revolutionise live events with Formula 1 racing.

 The area’s status as a 5G hot sport has now been boosted with the news that a new state-of-the-art UK telecommunications lab will be based in Solihull.

Said to be the first of its kind in the country, the UK Telecoms Lab will act as a secure research facility, bringing together telecom operators, suppliers and academics to research and test innovative new ways of boosting the security, resilience and performance of the UK’s mobile networks. It will help to close the digital skills gap locally as well as nationally by creating dozens of specialised jobs in telecoms and cyber security.

Explaining the reasoning behind opening the facility, the UK government said that the ever-increasing speed and reliability of mobile and broadband networks has supercharged the UK’s economy, but it also means the country is more dependent on its telecoms infrastructure.

It added that as the demand for 5G grows and next-generation 6G is on the horizon, having a new national research facility in one location will enable telecom companies and suppliers to test their equipment – such as radio network infrastructure and the software which underpins it – in a realistic environment.

In March 2022, the UK government released plans to fund an organisation dedicated to boosting innovation in the country’s telecoms supply chain. It unveiled the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN), which it said would position the UK as a world leader in telecoms research and development (R&D).

The Solihull UK Telecoms Lab will aim to help get faster mobile technology rolled out quicker and ensure people can have full confidence in UK networks by identifying national security risks and vulnerabilities, as well as ensuring vital equipment and software are protected against cyber attacks.

It is also designed to help new businesses enter the UK telecoms market by testing to ensure equipment is “fully interoperable”, meaning it can connect to kit supplied by different manufacturers, which the UK government says is increasingly important to its £250m ambition to build a more competitive, innovative and diverse supply chain for telecoms to reduce over-reliance on a few equipment makers. It comes in the wake of the ban on equipment from suppliers such as Huawei in 5G mobile network infrastructures.

Research commissioned by the UK government also shows a large increase in the number of tech startups and scaleups across Birmingham and the West Midlands. The analysis by job search engine Adzuna for the UK’s Digital Economy Council revealed that here has been a 21.3% increase in tech jobs in Birmingham in the seven months to July 2022, rising to 31% across the West Midlands region. The analysis shows the West Midlands has become one of the UK’s biggest digital sectors, with health, transport and sports tech companies flourishing in particular.

Since 2020, West Midlands tech companies have raised more than £850m in venture capital funding. There are now more than 144,000 people employed in tech startups and scaleups across the West Midlands, with over 56,000 in Birmingham alone. The boost to hiring follows a sharp increase in the value of West Midlands tech companies, with the region’s tech ecosystem now valued at £15.3bn, up from £11.5bn in 2021, according to data from Dealroom.

“Fast-growing firms are cementing Birmingham’s status as a tech powerhouse – boosting jobs and spreading economic growth right across the West Midlands,” said UK tech minister Damian Collins commenting on the opening of the facility. “There is no better home for the new UK Telecoms Lab, which will turn the region into a centre for expertise and innovation in the security of next-generation mobile networks.”

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