Hello, my name is Robert Franks and I am the Managing Director of West Midlands 5G, the UK’s largest 5G urban testbed. Working across industries including healthcare, transport and manufacturing, I have the privileged role of collaborating with organisations who are looking to solve problems with 5G products. Building partnerships with mobile operators and landlords is a key part of this.
5G innovation is great, obviously but if it’s only in the city centre, only a small proportion of the population will benefit. We need to create the conditions to scale up 5G networks and innovation everywhere. Bringing communities together lies at the centre of my ethos. It is important to understand different stakeholders' objectives, what the benefits are, as well as any barriers.
Against this context, WM5G has been acting as an independent broker to accelerate the 5G rollout and 5G innovation benefits. For example, a lot of the legislation and policies around how 4G and 5G networks have rolled out have changed dramatically across the decade and though well intended, this has thrown up a lot of challenges, mainly in terms of practical implementation. What does it mean in the marketplace? How do you revalue rooftops? How do you gain access?
But this is throwing up economic challenges, too. WM5G has therefore been working with both sides to understand the market and its needs. I’m putting a best practice legal agreement into place (to avoid wasting time coming up with new legal agreements) and a valuation compensation model. Above all else, I am focusing on how we can cooperate more effectively. The UK’s 5G rollout needs to be accelerated.
1. What do you enjoy most about working on the project?
I love meeting different stakeholders, listening to their priorities and challenges and then finding solutions that could make a massive difference in critical sectors and people’s lives. Working on innovative solutions is a real privilege. For example, most people can’t say they’ve used 5G to help reduce the prevalence of bowel cancer.
2. What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done in the name of 5G?
Well, we had a false start to the rollout of 5G. In the early days of the programme, we couldn’t access the railway station in Birmingham despite having booked it beforehand. A PR nightmare!
3. What excites you most about working on 5G?
Looking at how we take these innovations forward and get them adopted. The UK has a long-standing productivity gap but if we can help manufacturers, particularly small and medium-sized companies, which account for most of the output, we can drive 5G adoption off the back of that and transform the UK. 5G will accelerate economic growth and recovery, as well as social. That’s the next stage of the 5G journey – as well as transforming health & social care, transport and other sectors.
4. What would you like people to know about the project?
We originated from a government competition three and a half years ago and built all of this from scratch. It has been really exciting but also challenging. We were very lucky to win. In any start-up project, you have to build the team while delivering the projects and that is not an easy thing to do. But we want to make a real difference to citizens, businesses and public services in the West Midlands and beyond.
5. What’s the biggest benefit you think 5G will bring to the UK?
5G will transform the efficiency and productivity of a number of sectors. It is super exciting for various consumer applications and we’re already starting to see that with some of the emerging VR products and services that are coming to market. There’s also going to be a major step change around business and public services versus 4G, whether that be doctors becoming more productive or increased wellness for patients. For manufacturers, predictive maintenance will speed up production lines and in transport, systems will be better monitored, improving public safety.