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First UK Multi-City 5G Mobile Test Bed to Begin in the West Midlands

Tuesday, September 4th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 1,568
5g mobile wireless mast tower uk

The United Kingdom’s first “large-scale” test bed of next generation Gigabit speed capable 5G mobile broadband technology is set to take place in the West Midlands, with the cities of Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton being today lined up to conduct the new trial, which is worth up to £75 million.

Today’s development forms part of the Government’s 5G Urban Connected Communities Project, which in the original spring 2018 announcement stated that it was seeking Expressions of Interest (EoI) from public sector authorities who wished to take a “key role” in supporting their project based on a “large scale city area in the UK“.

The project itself was originally established to design wireless infrastructure in a major city that delivers “high quality connectivity, while enabling applications on 5G to be trialled“. On top of that it also aimed to allow industry to test different deployment models for 5G infrastructure and would help to inform the development of related policy and regulation.

Apparently this could also target “pinch-points” with poor connectivity in cities, such as in city centres “where heavy loading rather than lack of signal creates a not-spot.” The test bed may also support other technologies, such as in-building public WiFi and a dense network of small cells (effectively small base stations) or more macro-cells (both useful for in-fill coverage or adding mobile capacity etc.).

Today’s announcement confirms much of this and states that the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has won the open competition to run the new test bed and it must now prepare the formal business case for approval. All of this is being funded by £25m from the Government, plus £25m in match funding from regional partners and an additional £25m may be “made available at a later stage.”

All of the aforementioned funding will come out of the £200m that the Gov has set aside to develop 5G (a small slice of the £31bn National Productivity Investment Fund). The total investment made from public funding for the entire project will also be matched by commercial funding.

Margot James MP, UK Digital Minister, 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.”

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.

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.

The potential of this technology is endless – and we will enjoy the benefits first. From monitoring the health of babies and the elderly, to the way out 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.”

Apparently the WMCA bid has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors, with its “overarching ambition to help drive economic growth and benefit people’s lives through participation in new digital technologies and digitally transformed public services.” The project itself is expected to go live during early 2019 and others will follow.

Subject to formal approval, initial plans include:

– Hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations carried out remotely by video link not subject to droppage or latency barriers. As well as being more convenient for patients, this means they can play back their appointment at a later date or share it securely with a family member or carer to help inform their care.

– “Connected Ambulances” – Paramedic crews at an incident could access specialist advice while they are at the scene, eg video conferencing with consultants or other clinical specialists. Live streaming of patient data from ambulance en route to hospital would help inform the immediate care patients receive on arrival.

– Live streaming of CCTV footage from public transport buses, enabling police officers to take immediate action against anti-social behaviour. “Intelligent cameras” using artificial intelligence (AI) to identify incidents could provide the opportunity for far greater coverage than is possible at present.

– Autonomous vehicles will transform the way we travel, preventing major accidents, improving traffic flow and reducing energy consumption. The WMCA will partner with Jaguar Land Rover to facilitate real world testing of driverless cars.

We should point out that some of the earliest 5G based fixed wireless trials (used to serve homes/businesses) have already recorded data speeds of several Gigabits per second (Gbps) and the formal IMT-2020 specification supports up to 20Gbps, but it’ll be a fair few years before anybody is able to deliver that. Meanwhile consumers in the mobile (not fixed) environment should expect speeds a bit better than the top 4G performance (c.1Gbps) at launch.

The main commercial 5G deployments aren’t expected to begin via EE, Three UK, Vodafone and O2 until 2020 (when most of the new spectrum will become available from Ofcom). However, big trials will start at Vodafone, O2 and EE this year, with the latter anticipating a smaller scale commercial deployment beginning toward the end of 2019 (likely to use the recently auctioned 3.4GHz band).

In terms of spectrum, Ofcom expects that the 700MHz band will be useful for cheaply delivering wide 5G Mobile coverage in rural areas. Meanwhile bands around 3-6GHz should focus more on urban locations (i.e. areas of high demand) and of course the very high frequencies above 24GHz (millimetre Wave) could support “very large bandwidths, providing ultra-high capacity and very low latency” (i.e. fixed wireless links to homes etc.).

UPDATE 10:33am

We’ve just had a comment on this from London focused fixed line FTTP ISP Community Fibre, which itself recently secured a £25m investment from the government-backed National Digital Infrastructure Fund (in addition to further £10m from RPMI Railpen – the UK pension fund for railway companies).

Jeremy Chelot, CEO of Community Fibre, said:

“Full-fibre will be the foundation stone of 5G. The 5G vision will require thousands of mobile base stations, with each requiring data backhaul from a true full-fibre connection to operate effectively. It will therefore be vital that true full-fibre infrastructure is installed to enable the benefits of this revolution.

Similarly, devices connected to the Internet of Things will require a responsive data connection that can only be delivered over a true full-fibre network. It is certain that without true full-fibre networks to underpin these technologies, Smart Cities will simply not be viable.

The demand from businesses and the public for interconnected, future-proofed internet services is growing, and service providers are trying to respond to this demand with varying success. The potential impact a truly full-fibre broadband network could have on the UK’s productivity is great; not least giving businesses and individuals the opportunity to work more flexibly and fully utilise cloud-based services.

Many have speculated what the Smart City of the future will look like; we think it should be a place where a reliable and fast internet connection is accessible to all. Community Fibre has already begun the roll-out of our full-fibre infrastructure with the backing of several large-scale investors, who understand full-fibre broadband’s importance to the digital connectivity of the future.”

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. Avatar 5G Infinity

    Umm nothing of what they say they will do – conencted ambulances, streamed CCTV from buses etc is new and has all been done before using WiFi, 3G and WiMAX in Reading and Maidstone with support of the borough councils in 2007 thru 2009.

    Be interesting to see what is the ‘real 5G business model’ and what use cases that will support.

  2. Avatar Bee

    Nothing about the health related issues!?!?

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