The UK government is seeking a major city to trial new 5G services as part of the delivery of the 5G Urban Connected Communities project. Whitehall also wants private sector partners to help deliver the programme.
The project is being funded with £200m of investment that has been allocated to the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport’s (DCMS) 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).
The project’s ultimate aim is to improve the quality of urban life and support local economic development.
The government is seeking expressions of interest from local authorities who want to develop and lead delivery of the project – and encourage other public sector bodies to participate – ensuring that they provide access to local infrastructure assets, services, and data.
The programme comes in the wake of a number of independent 5G trials being conducted in the UK, such as the scheme in Bristol.
The city that wins the bid will trial a variety of initiatives that could include: doctors using real-time video consultations and remote treatment for those less able to travel; deploying sensors and real-time monitoring and management to make traffic jams a thing of the past; and using AR and VR to improve the way that tourists experience venues.
In addition, the government wants to work alongside companies – particularly wireless network operators, service providers and equipment suppliers – that are keen to partner with the public sector on the trial.
According to the project overview, the programme will harness developments in artificial intelligence and the data-driven economy, and will involve the design of a wireless infrastructure that delivers high-quality connectivity for 5G applications.
The government says the project will also allow industry to test different deployment models for 5G infrastructures, and help to inform the development of policy and regulation to support 5G programmes.
The project aims to tackle poor connectivity in cities, which often comes from heavy loading rather than a lack of signal. The solution could include a mix of technologies that include in-building Wi-Fi, small cells, or macro cells.
The 5G test should also support industrial and internet of things applications, such as connected transport, and waste- and energy-management applications, and prove the sustainability of the 5G-enabled apps and services that commercial partners provide.
The government has stressed that the project is designed to test 5G characteristics, benefits, and deployment challenges in urban locations. A separate tendering process will initiate a Rural Connected Communities project.
“This is a huge opportunity for an urban area to become the flagship of our ambitious programme to make Britain fit for the future and a world leader in 5G,” said DCMS minister of state, Margot James.
“Trialling 5G at scale across an entire city is a chance to prove the economic benefits predicted from this new technology, test different methods of deployment, and boost the connectivity of ordinary people working and living there,” she added.
Internet of Business says
With the UK’s lamentable progress in broadband speeds and connectivity – Britain barely scrapes into the world top 30 in terms of fixed-line speeds, and is currently 45th in mobile broadband (as explored in this recent Internet of Business report) – it is heartening to see both central and local government taking the lead in 5G deployments.
Set alongside recent national and local government moves to put AI, robotics, and autonomous systems at the heart of a new industrial strategy, the UK seems to be waking up from years of strategic slumber. It may be far too late to secure leadership in automation and AI, but the opportunities in 5G are considerable.