Good news, the West Midlands has been selected to become the 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 Tech bit

The ITU IMT-2020 standard provides for speeds up to 20 gigabits per second and has only been demonstrated with millimeter waves of 15 gigahertz and higher frequency. The more recent 3GPP standard includes any network using the NR New Radio software. 5G New Radio can include lower frequencies, from 600 MHz to 6 GHz. However, the speeds in these lower frequencies are only modestly higher than new 4G systems, estimated at 15% to 50% faster. If I was a betting man I would guess at likely real life speeds of 100mbps rather than Gbps but that’s still a massive improvement on today’s 4G.

Small Cells

It is likely that an implementation in the city will use small cells rather than 4G which has used mast’s that cover 1-2 miles radius in rural areas and 400-800 metres in urban areas.

These small cells (millimeter-wave) will be placed in existing infrastructure like lamp posts, signs building roofs etc. The reason small cells are required is because to get the bandwidth you need a higher frequency signal which has a lower range, so it’s more efficient to have lots of small cells than one high powered mast (also probably some health & safety issues with a high powered mast making it impractical). This infrastructure is going to take time and money to deploy so expect to see it in pockets to start with.

5G Facts

  • 5G standard was completed in June 18, so it’s very new and hardware is going to have to play catchup.
  • Qualcomm just made its mmWave antenna modules available to its smartphone partners, which means 5G-capable smartphones that use Qualcomm’s antennas will be able to use millimeter-wave frequencies.
  • The first 5G-capable phones will start to appear early 2019. The first 5G devices will be mobile hotspots (routers), which will roll out toward the end of 2018.
  • Motorola is announcing the Moto Z3 alongside a 5G Moto Mod.
  • LG announced Aug 14th that it plans to make the first true 5G phone, with 5G connectivity fully integrated instead of baked into an add-on accessory. The device will be out in the first half of 2019.

The Opportunity

Firstly it’s happening here so access to the test bed for local companies should be available and easier than those outside the ecosystem, which hopefully provides a competitive advantage (we have no details on access yet but will keep you posted).

We are all in tech so the opportunities are well understood, IoT, Autonomous Vehicles, VR & AR etc. I think we are likely to see 5G modems first rather than phones so fast reliable access from places that have traditionally not be able to get Fibre circuits or couldn’t afford it will be the first beneficiaries of this infrastructure (here is looking forward to the day with Broadband without a phone line).

The West Midlands Combined Authorities (WMCA) who won the bid has an initial focus on the health, construction and automotive sectors so expect this to drive who get access and where hotspots are created. But I am sure there will be opportunities for hustling tech entrepreneurs to piggyback onto these projects.

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.

Should you rush out the next version of your mobile app that uses VR and needs Gbps of bandwidth to work, probably not. This is a journey that is going to take years to get beyond pockets of coverage so most of your customers/users will end up rolling back to 4G or 3G when not in a hotspot.

For the ecosystem this is a massive win and show’s Birmingham is growing as a player in the UK’s tech scene.




Simon Jenner

Simon Jenner

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