By Robert Franks, Managing Director – WM5G
• With the UK facing profound crises, we need new technologies to drive recovery & growth
• UK leadership in 5G is critical to unlock the benefits of AI, the internet of things & robotics
• For example 5G is improving manufacturing productivity by reducing down-time & delays
• 5G is helping to improve health & social care and reduce road congestion & pollution
• Now we’re putting 5G in the hands of start-ups via the UK’s first 5G Accelerators
The UK is clearly facing a profound economic and social challenges. The pandemic has resulted in the worst recession for over 300 years, the highest levels of public debt since World War 2 and of course tragically over 100,000 deaths. Furthermore it’s also likely that unemployment will rise significantly after furlough ends.
Against this backdrop, the next generation of mobile technology – 5G – is being rolled-out across the UK and the West Midlands is adopting a leadership position through the company I lead, West Midlands 5G. West Midlands 5G is the UK’s largest 5G innovation company – part of the government’s 5G Tests & Trials programme.
So what is 5G? What’s new about 5G is its speed (10-100 times faster than 4G), its ability to connect up to 20 times more devices (to power the internet of things as well as smartphones), its ability to guarantee the transmission of real-time data (down to 1 millisecond delay) as well as improvements to security, availability and reliability.
Analysts believe that 5G has the potential to transform many industries and public services. Before the pandemic, Barclays Capital forecast that 5G could create £8 billion to £15 billion of additional business revenues and 100,000 to 172,000 additional jobs in five years’ time. But with many businesses struggling to survive let alone invest in new technologies, where is the real value in 5G and how can it help us power recovery?
Let’s start with the argument against 5G. Leaving aside the nonsense about 5G causing Covid – it doesn’t and this has been discredited by scientists – a powerful argument against 5G that the UK would be better improving 4G and broadband coverage to rural communities and others who lack decent, reliable, connectivity.
Fortunately the government and operators have recognised these challenges and are now co-investing over £1 billion in the UK’s shared rural network. This will fund the extension of 4G to cover 95% of the UK’s land mass by the end of 2025. In addition the Government is investing £5 billion in the extension of fast broadband to reach the 20% of homes which are uneconomic for broadband providers to reach by themselves.
Against this context of improving 4G and broadband coverage, 5G leadership is critical to drive UK economic recovery and growth. Let’s start with existing industries. Before the pandemic, the West Midlands enjoyed a decade of GDP and employment growth. However since then the manufacturing sector – which accounts for 22% of GVA and 17% of jobs in the Midlands – has been hit hard by the pandemic.
By installing a 5G private network and sensors on machines at the Worcester Bosch factory, productivity can be improved by 2-3% – a major uplift – by reducing machine down-time through predictive maintenance and remote servicing. 5G enables this by providing large quantities of real-time data as well as the flexibility to support the reconfiguration of factories. We’re now extending these trials by launching the first 5G networks in SME manufacturers and further use cases – with AE Aerospace, a leading manufacturer based in Birmingham and MTC, a dedicated facility in Coventry which helps SME manufacturers adopt 5G. So hundreds of SMEs will be able to understand and adopt 5G benefits.
5G can also help transform health & social care. For example in 2019, WM5G ran the UK’s first 5G connected ambulance trial with Universities Hospitals Birmingham, one of the largest NHS trusts in the UK, and BT. Here we evidenced the potential for a paramedic in an ambulance to carry out an ultrasound scan at first point of patient contact – while being guided by a GP using high-definition video images from the ultrasound scanner back at the hospital which could be many miles away.
The speed and real-time capability of 5G makes this possible – it can’t be done with 4G because of the size of the ultrasound images and need for real-time interaction. We’ve since extended this work to test and prove the benefits of 5G remote controlled diagnosis and monitoring solutions in over five care homes. Next year we’ll also be launching 5G trials to help improve early cancer diagnosis.
In transport, it’s vital we find new ways to reduce congestion and pollution given that road traffic is now back to pre-pandemic levels. To this end we’ve launched the UK’s first 5G road sensor network working with Transport for West Midlands. We’ve installed high-definition cameras and other sensors at road-junctions and connecting them via 5G to the traffic control centres. By using anonymised real-time date from the sensors we’re testing and proving the opportunity to optimise traffic flows and thereby help reduce congestion and pollution. In addition we’re testing around 20 other 5G use cases in road and rail designed to deliver a wide range of benefits.
We’re also starting to see the emergence of a variety of experiential use cases for 5G. For example, the impressive EE augmented reality TV advert involving a Bastille concert at Birmingham New Street station. This showed how virtual animations can be mixed with a live performance using 5G to enable consumers to experience it. Colleagues in Bath has experimented with 5G and augmented reality to show tourists what the baths would’ve looked like in Roman times. We’re also started to see events with huge 5G drone light shows which create the concept of a huge moving firework-style displays as another example.
It’s therefore important to remember that 5G is still in its infancy and that the opportunity it presents is to lead and shape the innovation it delivers. Many of the use cases which need 5G are still being discovered – as they were for 4G and smartphones ten years ago. With this in mind, WM5G has launched the UK’s first commercial 5G Accelerators, called 5prinG, in Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton – working with O2, Deloitte, Digital Catapult and Wayra.
These facilities are open to organisations from anywhere in the UK to attend to experience 5G and then to offer the opportunity to work with start-ups to test and prove new services. So if you’d like to find out more about 5G and what value it could deliver for your organisation please join us for one of the 5prinG introductory events – they’re free and you can register online at: https://5pring.org