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.

New transport system will be sprinting for success at Commonwealth Games

Sprint bus CGI

Top athletes are not the only ones aiming to be in peak condition for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – the region’s transport system is also looking to be fast out the blocks.

Details were unveiled today (Thursday August 23) of a new type of transport called Sprint which will use tram-style vehicles to provide fast, reliable journeys along some of the region’s busiest roads.

Sprint, which runs on road-going wheels rather than tracks, will have seven routes by 2026 but three of those are now being accelerated so they are in place for the Games.

Birchfield Harriers Kaie Chambers-Brown (Great Britain U20) and Cassie-Anne Pemberton (Great Britain U18) launch the Sprint consultation with Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street (left) and Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council.Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street and Cllr Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, were joined by Great Britain sprinters Kaie Chambers-Brown (U20) and Cassie-Anne Pemberton (U18) in urging people to have their say and take part in a public consultation on the Sprint plans.

The Mayor said: “Sprint will work in tandem with the new suburban rail lines and Metro tram routes we are building, creating a transport network that can grow our economy, give people cleaner air and squeeze the maximum benefit possible from HS2.

“But Sprint can also help make the Games a success which is why we are accelerating three of the routes. I would urge people to have their say on these plans and help showcase our region to the world and shape our future transport system.”

Sprint is being developed by Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), which is part of the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), in partnership with local councils including Birmingham, Sandwell, Solihull and Walsall.

The authorities have now drawn up detailed proposals for the three priority routes which are:

  • Birmingham City Centre to Birmingham Airport and Solihull (A45 serving NEC)
  • Birmingham City Centre through Sandwell to Walsall (A34 serving Games Village and Alexander Stadium)
  • Birmingham City Centre to Sutton Coldfield via Langley

Cllr Ward, who is also WMCA portfolio holder for economic growth, said: “The arrival of Sprint will undoubtedly act as a catalyst for regeneration and inclusive growth in the West Midlands, offering improved access to jobs and opportunities including those provided by HS2, Birmingham’s Big City Plan, and other major employers in the region.

“Sprint will offer an attractive, viable alternative for car drivers and, as we continue to tackle the pressing issue of air pollution, this exciting project will help to significantly reduce the number of cars on our roads, improving air quality in our region.”

Sprint will offer passengers a level of service and comfort similar to a tram with off-board ticketing, multiple-door boarding, wheelchair and pushchair access, free wifi, air conditioning and on-board audio visual announcements and travel information.

It will provide fast and dependable journey times using limited stops – around 500m apart – using its own dedicated lane through areas of high congestion. It will also get automatic priority at busy junctions.

Cllr Roger Lawrence, leader of City of Wolverhampton Council and WMCA portfolio holder for transport, said: “In many ways the Sprint vehicles look and feel like a tram especially in the way the seats are orientated and the doors operate.

“It combines the capacity of a tram system but with the flexibility, lower cost and simplicity of a bus. It is a proven concept in other European cities and we believe it can play a key role in our plans for the Commonwealth Games and the integrated transport system we are building for the future.”

Details of the plans, which would require some changes to road lanes, junctions, roadside parking and access, will also be available at five public events:

Birmingham to Sutton via Langley Route
Saturday September 1 – 9am-3pm  – The Parade (near Aldi) Sutton Coldfield B72 1PL

A34 Route
Thursday September 6 – 1pm-7pm – Scott Arms, Sandwell B42 1TQ

A45 Route
Saturday September 15 – 9am-3pm – Mell Square, Solihull B91 3AZ

A34 Route
Wednesday September 19 – 2pm-7pm – Park Street (near Wilkinson’s) Walsall Town Centre WS1 1LJ

All Three Routes and Hagley Road Phase 1 Advanced Works
Saturday September 22 – 9am-3pm – High Street Birmingham City Centre B4 7SL

The consultation runs until September 28 and people can take part by visiting www.tfwm.org.uk/sprint

Sprint bus interior cgi

Making Birmingham a Donor City: I’ve signed-up to the Organ Donor Register – have you?

As the British Transplant Games drew to a close on Sunday, Birmingham was named Transplant Sport’s first ever Donor City. The award (in association with the Daily Mirror) recognises the city’s commitment to increasing the number of Birmingham citizens signed-up to the Organ Donor Register.

Council leader Ian Ward explains why he has registered to be a donor and urges other Birmingham citizens to do the same.

When I was asked earlier this year how hosting the British Transplant Games might be used to improve donor registration rates in the city, I suggested that Birmingham might become a Donor City.

And I’m delighted that – what seemed to me at the time to be a simple suggestion – has now brought together colleagues and partners from the NHS, Public Health and Birmingham City Council.

Now, our challenge is to use this award as a springboard to increasing awareness of the need for more donors and ultimately to bringing about a step-change in donor registration in Birmingham.

Our ambition is to make Birmingham the highest organ donor city in the UK; and the sad fact is that there is plenty of room for improvement.

According to NHS statistics released earlier this year, people in the West Midlands are the least likely in the country to have signed up to the organ donor register. In fact, fewer than one in four people in the region have signed up and in Birmingham the figure falls to just 21 per cent – sadly we are the second ranked of all core cities.

Those figures are not good enough, and sadly the picture gets even worse when you look at our BAME communities, which is why this project will have a particular focus on encouraging citizens from BAME communities (around 40 per cent of our population) to register.

Birmingham is an incredibly diverse city, home to people who can trace their roots back to virtually every country in the world – but if you are black, Asian or from another minority ethnicity, you have a significantly lower chance of receiving an organ than white patents.

Wolverhampton MP Eleanor Smith, who led a review into the situation entitled ‘Ending the Silent Crisis’, summed-up the problem when she recently wrote: “If members of the BAME communities don’t make donations of blood, organs and stem cells, then people will die! This is a very real health crisis. Demand is high – disproportionally high. And supply is extremely low.”

To address the shortfall, we must establish donation as a normal act. People in every community must feel able to talk about donation, illness and death. These are not easy topics and I understand why people shy away from them.

But organ donation saves lives and is the only hope for many desperately ill people in this city and elsewhere. There are people across the city who are alive today thanks to organ donation. They are alive because grieving relatives – in their darkest moments – selflessly agreed to help families also facing the prospect of losing a loved one.

The selfless actions of those courageous families should not be underestimated. They are true heroes.

If Birmingham lives up to the title of Donor City we will be a city of heroes and we will deliver a legacy that will improve the lives of many people on organ donor waiting lists.

Earlier this week we learned that a new opt-out system for organ donation could be in place by 2020, which is potentially very good news. But we still have a challenge on our hands to make organ donation to default option for people in Birmingham.

So this will be a campaign for hearts and minds. We need to get to a place, where donors are admired and respected, and their altruism recognised.

And success – as is nearly always the case – will require a team effort.

I’ve signed up to the Organ Donor Register and I will encourage my fellow citizens to do the same, starting with my colleagues on the city council.

If enough of us step up, in every neighbourhood and every community across the city, then we will truly merit the title of Donor City.

To register to donate, go to: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/register-to-donate/

For more information about donation go to: https://www.organdonation.nhs.uk/about-donation/