UK''s 'first' large-scale 5G hub to test digital health apps in 2019

The West Midlands will become the UK's first 'large scale' 5G testbed early next year, playing host to a number of digital health and public sector projects.

The ‘Urban Connected Communities Project’ will have access to up to £75 million of public and private investment, with support coming from the Department for Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS)’s 5G Testbed and Trials programme.

The plans are yet to be finalised, but the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA)’s areas of interest also include construction and the automotive industry. Areas covered include Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

West Midlands 5G

“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,” said Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands.

“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.”

Among the first tranche of applications will be connected ambulances that allow paramedics to access specialist information at the scene of an incident. The low latency and increased capacity of 5G networks will ensure a reliable connection that allows for videoconferencing as well as the transmission of patient data to the hospital, which can prepare for their arrival.

There will also be trials of remote hospital appointments and emergency consultations. Not only does this save potential travel time, it also means the appointments can be replayed and shared with family members of a carer.

Public safety is also an area of focus, with live streaming of CCTV footage, as well as the application of Artificial intelligence (AI) to identify possible criminals, used to help police offices take immediate action and expand their coverage range. Finally, the WMCA will also work with Jaguar Land Rover on connected car technology.

The 5G Testbed and Trials programme is also working with other initiatives, focusing on areas such as health, tourism and rural prosperity. It is expected that the first commercial UK 5G services will go live in 2019 or 2020.

The government has allocated £200 million for 5G testing, while mobile operators and other private firms are conducting their own trials. For example, O2 will turn the O2 arena into a testbed later this year, while EE also has plans in the work.

“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,” added Margot James, minister for digital. “The West Midlands Testbed, which is the first of its kind anywhere in the world, will be instrumental in helping us realise this ambition.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.