5G is coming to the West Midlands

The West Midlands Combined Authority has been successful in winning the Urban Connected Communities’ national competition to be the major test bed for 5G.

What is 5G?

  • 5G is mobile internet as fast as fibre, with speeds up to 1GB. Home broadband in WM today is on average 15MB, so this is 5-10x faster.
  • 5G has huge capacity. Thousands of users can connect at the same time and all get great speed.
  • It is ultra-reliable and secure. It doesn’t drop connections. This is great for mobile users, but it also means we can use it for critical communications like medical devices, guiding vehicles and connecting machines.

5G isn’t just 4G+1: it’s a whole new technology. It needs more than just new handsets. We need new kinds of network equipment and services.

How will 5G be good for users?

  • Mobile internet will be fast and reliable everywhere. Netflix in New St for everyone. And what comes after Netflix like VR and AR.
  • You can use 5G for home broadband instead of needing a broadband or fibre connection
  • 5G can give you better performance with much longer battery life. It uses less power to carry the signal.
  • 5G will let companies and organisations connect everything to the internet at low cost. Cars, ambulances, machines, medical devices, CCTV, houses, pets. This technology will change our world for the better.

When will 5G Happen?

The first 5G mobile handsets will start to appear in 2019. Mobile operators will start to offer 5G in high traffic areas like stations and stadiums in 2020. If the pattern of 3G and 4G repeats, then it will take a few years for consumers to upgrade to new handsets, and for operators to build coverage in more areas.

Why is the Government Investing in 5G?

The government is investing now to help bring 5G to the UK sooner to benefit users and grow the economy.

UK Mobile companies have done a good job of giving us all good services right up to 4G. 5G is different. It is a new kind of technology. It might take a long time for operators to roll out 5G in the same way we have done 4G. Having 5G sooner, in more places, will benefit both users and UK industry, so the government is investing in making it faster and easier for 5G to be rolled out.

There is a global race for which countries and regions will be first to roll out 5G. The UK has been a global leader in mobile and wants to do the same in 5G. Asian countries are the early leaders. The UK wants to lead in Europe.

What is the WM 5G Project going to do?

The West Midlands project will build a network of 5G masts and equipment that operators can share. It will be an add-on network to the existing mobile networks that will let operators roll out 5G quickly and easily.

It makes sense to share this new network. 5G needs a lot of small antennae, perhaps up to 5-10 times more than 4G. These are not big masts like mobile now, but will just attach to lamp posts, buildings and so on. Most of these could be on sites owned by the public sector. This project is a network in-fill to support 5G.

This is a new approach. The government wants to pilot this partnership approach between the public sector and industry, and has chosen the West Midlands as the place to do this.

The whole public sector in the West Midlands has come together as a team to put this project together. The network will be a shared public asset that will be open to every company and organisation to use.

How big is this?

This is a large scale and ambitious project. It is globally significant.

The project will evolve in phases, with initial projected investment of £150m from the public sector and industry. Core public funding will be up to £75m: £50m from DCMS, with £25m from public sector bodies in the Midlands, matched by expected industry investment of £75m

Our ambition is for the network to become central to the 5G plans for UK and global industries and to attract ongoing waves of investment and partnership to the region.

Why has the West Midlands been chosen to lead the UK on 5G?

The government selected the West Midlands in a competitive process with proposals from 18 UK cities and regions.

We as the West Midlands won this because of who we are and what we can do together.

The region is large and well connected, with 3m people across 7 city and borough centres. The WM is home to 7 universities, the NEC, airport, motorways, train stations and will host the City of Culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Our key world leading industries of cars, health, construction, transport will all be transformed by using 5G. This project is a large-scale pilot of how 5G will transform society and the economy not a small-scale experiment.

The teamwork shown by all public sector partners in putting this ambitious project together gives a high level of confidence we can deliver together.

Mayor Andy Street has made digital a core part of his ambitious leadership of the region. This directly supports the WMCA’s Strategic Economic Plan. Connectivity drives productivity across all our key sectors, and enables citizens to participate in the growth of the digital economy. It directly supports our goal of tripling the productivity of the creative and digital sector. It supports our shared ambitions for digitally powered inclusive public services. The Mayor, WMCA and the region’s local authorities have formed an ambitious and capable partnership to deliver inclusive digital growth, which the government has chosen to back.

How will Citizens of the Region benefit?

Mobile users will get the benefits of 5G before the rest of the UK and most of Europe. But even before 5G handsets arrive, the extra network capacity will mean better 4G connections across the region. Broadband providers will be able to connect to the fibre that is part of the network to offer faster fibre home connections to more users across the region.

The project will create jobs to build the network, and in the companies that come to the region to develop new products and services. The project will support training for local people to move into these jobs of the future.

The investment in the network will accelerate progress towards our goal of digital inclusion. Having every citizen with access to broadband will enable everyone to use digital government services and participate in the growing digital economy. It dramatically lowers the barriers to connectivity – which could enable more people to play a role in our economy, society and democracy, particularly in those areas and communities which are currently marginalised.

What are the benefits to the West Midlands Economy?

The investment of up to £150m in the region will create jobs and drive economic growth.

Having potentially Europe’s earliest and largest 5G pilot network on their doorstep will give the regions companies like JLR a head-start in building 5G enabled products and services. JLR are leading the UK auto industry in developing electric and connected cars for the future, and this network will greatly support their work in the region and complement existing smaller projects underway already.

National and global companies will come to the region to use the network to develop their own 5G products, bringing innovation, investment and jobs.

The scale and global significance of the project will put the region at the forefront of the global race to 5G deployment, and establish its identity as the place where the digitally powered industries and inclusive public services of the future are being built first.

How does this fit into the UK 5G Strategy?

The UK 5G strategy is to use focused public investment to support and accelerate the development and deployment of 5G technology and services to establish a leadership position for the UK.

Although hosted in the West Midlands, this is a national project that forms part of the overall government strategy to establish the UK as a leader in 5G deployment. In Phase 0, UK Universities developed some new core 5G technologies. In phase 1, the government funded technical test beds exploring how 5G might be used. In the Midlands, Worcester has a leading project to use 5G in manufacturing in partnership with Bosch.

The WM DNA project is phase 2 of this national project. It is a large-scale live deployment building on the learning from previous phases. The WM project has been developed with input from the Worcester 5G team.

The project is a national shared enterprise for the UK and industry to learn how to rapidly deploy new 5G technologies at scale, and the whole UK will participate in a learn from the project.

The government wants to support existing mobile operators and new innovators in their efforts to accelerate the deployment of 5G. Our planned network complements existing and planned industry investments in mobile and fibre in the region and extends and expands the network to support 5G.

How is the project being delivered?

The project is a joint venture between the WMCA, Local Authorities, LEPs and DCMS. The project will be designed and delivered by a new organisation called the West Midlands Digital Network Alliance, WM DNA, under the governance of the WMCA. This puts Digital DNA into the heart of the region and the UK.

The project is a collaborative enterprise bringing the proven capabilities of digital teams across Local Authorities, Health, Education, Emergency Services, and industry together with a shared strategic objective to drive inclusive digital growth and transformation.

What will be built?

WM DNA work with operators, industry and the WM public sector teams to collaboratively design a network of 5G ready antennas and equipment to be placed primarily on public sector sites across the region. These sites will be connected together using existing or new fibre optic cables. The network will also build data centres and software services that 5G needs to operate.

What is the business model for the project?

The network is a public and private shared investment which will generate income from charging companies and organisations to use the network.

The WM DNA 5G network will be open to any company or organisation to use. It is a shared public infrastructure. Initially, the main users will be existing mobile operators wanting to add extra capacity and 5G to their networks.

Broadband providers can connect to the network to use its fibre connections to connect fibre to homes and business across the region. This will bring gigabit speed fibre to the region faster.

Companies and researchers developing new services like connected cars and medical devices will be able to connect to the network.

Public bodies will be able to connect to the network for their communications needs.

What areas will the Network Cover?

The first stage of the project will be a spine connecting Coventry, Birmingham and the Black Country. The spine will cover almost all our city centres, transport routes and hubs, universities and sports venues, including the Commonwealth Games 2022 sites.

The exact size and location of the network will be part of the design process. Our aspiration is that the by 2021 the network covers 25-40% of the population of the region, but more of the usage by being concentrated in high traffic and usage zones like transport hubs.

We will create a governance framework for the programme that reflects the balance of stakeholders across the region, and report regularly on progress via the WMCA Board.

When will this happen?

The new organisation WM DNA is being formed immediately with the focus on collaboration and teamwork across the region and industry.
To deliver the ambitious scale and speed of the project we will need to work together on business, technical, commercial and deployment planning in parallel workstreams and collaborative teams from across the region, industry, and DCMS.

The project aims to deliver a series of demonstration events and projects starting early 2019 to both test the technology and show its potential. These will include:

  • Public show cases of 5G mobile internet using prototype handsets and broadband dongles
  • Early prototypes of 5G connected CCTV on buses to tackle anti-social behaviour
  • Sharing prototype 5G enable manufacturing control systems with local companies, and the use of VR and AR for training and troubleshooting

Over 2019 and 2020 antenna and equipment will be built in phases to be ready for 5G when it starts to arrive.

By 2020 – 2021, if the 5G industry progress as expected, we will see 5G handsets and services publicly available.

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