West Midlands first out of the blocks for superfast 5G

From the Industrial Revolution onwards, Birmingham and the West Midlands have been at the very forefront of technological advances.

Back in the 18th Century, the likes of Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch made this the Workshop of The World – a city renowned for endeavour and invention.

Fast-forward 250 years or so and we continue to be a centre for progress in areas such as advanced manufacturing, life sciences and digital innovation. This city and the wider West Midlands is home to one of the largest tech clusters in the UK with more than 40,000 people working in web development, data, e-commerce, animation and other digital industries.

So, as the West Midlands Combined Authority lead for Economic Growth, I’m excited that we have today approved plans to put the West Midlands at the very heart of the next big tech revolution – 5G.

Short for Fifth Generation Mobile Networks, 5G will be significantly faster than previous generations and is widely tipped to bring huge benefits to businesses, public services and to the wider population as a whole.

Of course, as with all new technologies, turning the clever science into practical uses is the tricky part. And that’s where we come in.

This region has been selected to become home to the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed in a multi-million pound project that will trial new 5G applications and services at scale.

The Urban Connected Communities Project will develop a large-scale, 5G pilot across the region, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton and initial plans include:

  • Hospital outpatient appointments and emergency consultations carried out remotely by video link.
  • “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 immediate action to be taken 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.

These examples are just some of the potential uses of this exciting technology and Birmingham will be at the very heart of a 5G revolution that experts believe could dramatically transform our daily lives.

I’m sure Messrs Boulton, Watt and Murdoch would approve.

Time to rebalance the London-centric UK economy

My speech at last night’s Centre for Cities event.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen

May I offer you a warm welcome to Birmingham – one of Europe’s youngest cities and, of course, home to the UK’s largest local authority.

You come to Birmingham at an exciting time. This young, diverse, creative city is going through a dramatic period of transformation at the moment.

In fact you could argue that we’ve entered a golden decade that will define Birmingham and the wider region for generations to come.

We’re building homes, attracting investment, creating jobs, building the infrastructure for HS2, hoping to get the nod as the new home of Channel 4 and preparing to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

I’m proud of Birmingham. I was born here, I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve seen the city change almost beyond recognition from the Birmingham of my childhood.

This city is currently buzzing with the noise of regeneration and we have many reasons for optimism.

  • The Good Cities Growth index rated us as the most improved in the UK in 2017 and we continue to attract new investment and new homes.
  • In recent years, Birmingham has seen the fastest growth in business numbers in the country.
  • With an economy worth £24.8bn, this city has a growth rate of 19.2% in the last five years and is one of the largest growing city economies in the UK.
  • Last year we were once again the most entrepreneurial city in Britain outside London as 12,108 new businesses opened their doors in 2017.
  • And Birmingham is ranked as having the highest quality of life of any English city outside the capital, by the global Mercer Quality of Living Report 2018.

Of course, I don’t have to sell Birmingham to the people in this room. You must like the city because you keep coming back!

In increasingly uncertain times, this great city and the wider region stand ready to play a pivotal role in the UK economy whatever happens with Brexit.

Through the West Midlands Combined Authority, we are working very closely with the West Midlands Mayor Andy Street to get the best possible deal for the people of this city and this region.

Our collaborative work on the Local Industrial Strategy is a prime example. As the Combined Authority’s portfolio lead for economic growth, I’m working closely with the Mayor to grow our regional economy in a way that can bring greater prosperity to all our communities.

Like cities and city regions up and down the UK, Birmingham and the West Midlands will be more important than ever if and when we leave the European Union.

But of course we must be given the tools to play that key role and we must be given a greater stake in the

I’m sure I won’t be the only person over the next four days to talk about the importance of rebalancing the UK economy.

We’ve been talking about it for years, but spending in this country remains stubbornly London-centric.

It surely cannot be right, for example, that transport investment stands at almost £1,000 per head for London, but just over £300 for Birmingham and the West Midlands.

Yes the regions miss out, but so does the UK economy as a whole.

We stand ready to play our part.

Invest is us and we’ll deliver – not just for Birmingham and the West Midlands – but for Britain.

West Midlands to become UK’s first large-scale 5G testbed

The West Midlands has been selected to become the innovative home to the UK’s first multi-city 5G test bed. The multi million pound trial of new high speed connectivity will pave the way for the future rollout of 5G across the UK, making the region the first in the UK ready to trial new 5G applications and services at scale.

The Urban Connected Communities Project, the next step in the Government’s 5G Testbed and Trials Programme, will develop a large-scale, 5G pilot across the region, with hubs in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton.

Up to £50m is currently available for the project, subject to further development and approval of the business plan. This includes £25m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and a further £25m match funding from regional partners. An additional £25m may be made available at a later stage.

Minister for Digital, Margot James 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.”

Following its selection through open competition, the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) will now work with the 5G Testbeds and Trials Team at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and industry partners on preparing the formal business case for approval, with the first of a series of projects expected to go live early next year.

The West Midlands Combined Authority’s (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.

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 immediate action to be taken 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.

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.”

Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council and WMCA portfolio lead for economy and jobs, said: “We want to lead the way in 5G and the potential for this technology in the West Midlands is unlimited, which is why we’re delighted with today’s news.

“The possibilities for businesses, individuals, investors and innovators are huge. Not only that, but imagine the difference having a fully operational 5G network in the West Midlands will have as we host the Commonwealth Games.

“The way people are consuming news and digital content is changing by the day and 5G gives Birmingham the opportunity to be the first city to host a major event using this technology.”

DCMS funding for the project will come from the £200 million government has assigned  to develop 5G technologies as part of more than £1bn of investment in next-generation digital infrastructure, including via the £31bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

The 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme forms part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, aimed at continually driving the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and investing in the skills, industries and infrastructure of the future.