Five years into the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, I’ve been looking back at the successes and the lessons we’ve learnt along the way; the great strides we’re making with our projects and the future of the 5G ecosystem in the UK.
We started in July 2017, funding the test network: a collaboration between the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey, the University of Bristol and King’s College London. They created the first end-to-end 5G network. It continues to support other projects and is being used to trial applications and technologies with over 25 projects beyond the 5G programme.
The subsequent funding call provided us with six projects. These kick-started work in sectors and use cases such as healthcare, tourism and manufacturing. Little did we know the wealth of expertise and innovation we would see from this initial phase. To take one example, the AutoAir project at Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire created a testbed for transport. The project included deploying a 4G LTE and 5G network, as well as 802.11p and 70GHz millimetre wave connectivity throughout its 700 acre site. The testbed at Millbrook is now commercially viable and is being used by companies for research and testing. The AutoAir testbed is the only environment of its scale in Europe for emerging services and technologies in the connected vehicle sector.
In the birthplace of the industrial revolution, the West Midlands, we established the UK’s first urban-wide 5G testbed in 2018, WM5G, which opened the door to cutting-edge projects. It has gone from strength to strength, testing models for cost-effective deployment of infrastructure in urban areas, removing deployment barriers, and launching the 5PRING accelerator programme. We’ve recently seen ten leading start-ups working with 5PRING as the first cohort through the three-month acceleration programme. These are pioneering green innovations using 5G, from transforming deliveries, reducing pollution through better traffic management, high-tech recycling and many more. These new 5G use cases will help the West Midlands in the UK’s ambition to be net zero for carbon emissions by 2041 and showcase what can be possible across the UK using 5G.
The West Midlands and Birmingham have reaped the rewards of West Midlands 5G’s Infrastructure Acceleration programme, and been ranked best for 5G mobile coverage in a recent independent study. Since its inception, the project has been working closely with mobile network operators and local authorities as it uses a variety of innovative tools and approaches to accelerate the roll-out of 5G across the region. Project time for the deployment of infrastructure has been reduced by six months in some cases as a result, and the project estimates that £117.2m in cost savings could be achieved due to barrier-busting activities.
Looking to the future, I’m excited to see our new 5G Create projects developing and flourishing. The diversity of sectors in these 15 projects focus on industries such as creative, logistics, construction, sport, manufacturing and transport. One project will see Sir David Attenborough take to 5G to show people the wonders of the natural world through modern technology.
As we advance into this next year of the programme, I’m eager to see the results of the trials and how 5G will continue to benefit the wealth of sectors the 5GTT Programme has touched on to date. These industries will reap the opportunities and explore the potential of 5G to improve people’s lives and help build back better from the pandemic.