27 Smart City Alliance (SCA) members joined us on 9 June 2021 for our formal SCA meeting. The session took place on Zoom and was called “Demystifying 5G: Make the Most of 5G Opportunities in the West Midlands.” It featured two panels and a hands-on brainstorming activity in breakout rooms. The first panel was called “Demystifying 5G” and featured Ste Ashton (Worcestershire 5G), Lesley Holt (West Midlands 5G), and Dr Adel Aneiba (Birmingham City University). The second panel was called “Make the Most of 5G Opportunities in the West Midlands” and featured Holly Marshall (Sherbourne Digital Network), Hector Alemany-Briz (5prinG), and Paul Fairburn (Coventry University / uXplore). The panel sessions and Breakout Session Feedback were recorded. The recording and event slides are available at the bottom of this page.
What’s in a Name?
After Sarah Windrum shared a brief summary of the April SCA Refresh event, attendees voted on a potential new name for the Smart City Alliance. The options were:
- Smart City Alliance
- LocalGlobal Connect: West Midlands
- Connected Places Network West Midlands
- Smart and Emerging Technologies Working Group
- Digital Innovation Working Group
- Innovative Digital Working Group
23 people voted on the day, and all SCA members will have an opportunity to vote remotely before the final decision is made. Results will be shared publicly once everyone has had the opportunity to vote.
Panel 1, “Demystifying 5G”: Summary and Key Takeaways
Lesley Holt, Ste Ashton, and Dr Adel Aneiba discussed 5G with Sarah Windrum (SCA Chair). Topics included private vs. public 5G networks, the benefits of 5G, West Midlands 5G (WM5G)’s key focus areas, Worcestershire 5G (W5G)’s key focus areas, BCU’s upcoming 5G-related courses, skills, and signposting SMEs from one programme to another. Each of the panelists highlighted how important it is to work closely with companies to make sure the right tools for their unique business challenges.
Lesley Holt shared that WM5G is the UK’s largest and first urban testbed, currently in its third year. WM5G has two key objectives: (1) to accelerate the rollout of 5G across the region, and (2) to test, prove, and scale new 5G products and services across the West Midlands—accelerating the benefits of 5G for citizens, businesses, and the public sector in the region. Commercialisation plays a key role in this conversation; for 5G solutions to benefit citizens, business, and the public sector, they have to be commercially viable.
Ste Ashton shared W5G’s strengths in Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, and Health and Social Care. W5G’s public-sector funding ended in 2020, and they have since transitioned to a sustainable Testbed-as-a-Service business model. W5G are very well-connected (pun intended!) with the other support programmes, and the team are keen to speak with businesses working the Manufacturing, Health, and Creative sectors about possible 5G solutions. Ste also shared a link to the Worcestershire 5G Skills Report.
Dr Adel Aneiba shared about BCU’s work on addressing the region’s 5G skills gap. A selection of BCU’s networking coursework includes hands-on work with 5G and focuses on practical 5G applications rather than on theoretical ones. BCU has a private network (from Nokia) on campus so students can access the testbed. Starting this Autumn, students on one specific MSC course will complete 50% of their coursework with 5G. And they offer 5G support services through their 5G Business and Innovation Centre.
The three panelists highlighted that 5G is one of many technologies businesses and organizations can use to build world-leading products, platforms, and services. It is especially useful in contexts that require low latency (high data at minimal delay), remote access, or critical applications (like remote surgery).
But perhaps the most important—if not surprising—statement our panelists made is this: 5G isn’t the only solution. Nor is it always the best solution.
5G support programmes across the region are very aware of this, and they work together to make sure SMEs and other organisations are introduced to the best-fit programme for them. This collaboration is at the heart of the West Midlands’ innovation ecosystem.
Panel 2, “Make the Most of 5G Opportunities in the West Midlands”: Summary and Key Takeaways
Holly Marshall, Paul Fairburn, and Hector Alemany-Briz joined Sarah Windrum for a discussion about how SMEs and other organisations can make the most of 5G opportunities in the West Midlands. The panelists started by sharing a brief overview of their respective programmes (links available in this blog). Topics included in the discussion included how we can use 5G at City of Culture and Commonwealth Games, regionality of support programmes, barriers to implementation, and how the SCA network can support these programmes.
Holly Marshall shared about the Sherbourne Digital Network, named after Coventry’s River Sherbourne. The Network’s vision to make Coventry a world-leading Smart City on par with New York, Shanghai, and Helsinki. Sherbourne Digital Network is a partnership between the Coventry and Warwickshire LEP, Coventry City Council, Coventry University, Vodafone, and the RICOH Stadium. The team spent last year identifying the gaps within Coventry’s digital ecosystem and infrastructure, and their focus in 2021 is on filling those gaps. These include OpenRAN, decarbonisation, and quantum skills. All of this work is underpinned by 5G
*Sarah Windrum declared an interest in the Sherbourne Digital Network, as she helped set it up in her role as Chair of Coventry and Warwickshire LEP.
Héctor Alemany-Briz shared about Wayra and the upcoming 5prinG Smart Cities Accelerator. This challenge-led programme includes four main focus areas: Health and Social Care, Social and Events, Public Services, and Public Safety. The programme’s purpose is to improve the way we live with innovation that uses 5G. 5prinG will invite 15 startups to join the programme from 16 August – 12 November. Applications close 25 June.
Paul Fairburn spoke about Coventry University and the uXplore project. Coventry University has the first standalone core in their School of Health and Life Sciences. The programme was designed to help businesses in Coventry and Warwickshire innovate and develop new business models with a broad range of Tech solutions, including (but not limited to) 5G. Coventry University will launch their Digital Hub with a 5G private mobile network in October 2021.
Barriers and Asks (Panel 2)
At the end on the second panel, Sarah asked each panelist to identify a barrier or challenge they’ve encountered on their 5G journey and to share an ask with the SCA network. Their response are below:
Hector and Lesley (5prinG and WM5G):
- Barrier: Finding demand-side organisations that want to be challenge holders for 5prinG’s upcoming Accelerator programmes (e.g. Manufacturing, Destination & Events).
- Ask: Introductions to demand-side organisations who want to be challenge holders for 5prinG’s upcoming accelerator programmes. 50% of these organisations have to be based in the West Midlands, but 50% do not.
Paul (Coventry University / uXplore):
- Barrier: Businesses lack access to 5G networks, which makes it difficult for them to commercialise their innovations.
- Ask: Raise awareness of the uXplore programme. Though uXplore can only support businesses based in Coventry / Warwickshire geography, the team are keen to speak with anyone who has an interest in 5G. uXplore will help signpost to the right programme(s).
Holly (Sherbourne Digital Network):
- Barrier: Businesses don’t know how to write a compelling business case to justify the upfront investment into 5G infrastructure.
- Ask: A publicly available tool that demystifies the cost / benefit ratio of 5G and helps SMEs develop their business case.
Breakout Session Overview: The Lego Bricks Exercise
Attendees were asked to think about one skill, service, area of expertise, or offer they would like to share with the network. During the breakout session, each room worked together to identify what impact participants could make together.
Each breakout room used a Jamboard for notes. You can view those here.
Breakout Session Feedback
Group 1 broke their Lego Bricks-inspired discussion into “Superpowers” and “Impact”. The group first identified their superpowers, then discussed the impact they could make collectively and collaboratively.
- Ability to link in to 5G initiatives
- Availability to answer questions on 5G
- Testbeds as a Service
- Case study identification
- Systems integrators
- Breaking down the use cases into user / citizen benefits
- Access to regional Local Authorities
- Engaging with young people
- Graphic Design
- VR, animation, website design
- Interoperability between strategy, policy, and stakeholder ecosystem base
- Telling the story of 5G opportunities
- Policy and strategy
- Tech specialities
- End users
- Infographics, videos, creative illustrations instead of large public sector documents
- Reverse communication–feeding back any sticking points from end users to policymakers and strategists
- Rural communities and assets relating to the Church of England and Canal & River Trust
- Thinking through how to create a cost-effective roll out structure
Group 2 used their Jamboard to get ideas flowing, then they enjoyed a free-flowing conversation about collaborative innovation. Key points included:
- The need for a programme-agnostic library of 5G case studies that is easy for businesses to access
- This library should include information about commercialising and scaling 5G solutions
- Look to integrate 5G into existing cross-sector programmes like PIVOT (aerospace sector), 5G Accelerators, and Digital Innovation in Public Services
- Connecting with the Creative sector will be an important part of the post-COVID recovery
- Creative organisations are often smaller with less access to funding streams, commercial drive, visibility
- They’re fundamental to place and play a vital role in communities
- Look to integrate 5G into repurposing High Streets
- Maximise opportunities by working together
Sarah highlighted that multiple towns across the West Midlands have received Future High Streets funding to help them reimagine and rebuild High Streets post-COVID. Sarah suggested that the SCA network could play a role in helping to integrate 5G into these conversations.
Group 3 engaged in a robust debate about the benefits of use cases vs. case studies. They then turned their attention to community-based cultural institutions and possible 5G integrations. Key points included:
- “Use Case” vs. “Case Study”
- Use case shows what’s possible
- Case study shows what’s commercially viable, scalable, and accessible
- Capitalise on large-scale pop-up events, like City of Culture and Commonwealth Games
- Work to land the power of 5G from a spectator’s perspective
- City of Culture + Commonwealth Games Legacy discussion
- Community-based cultural institutions would benefit greatly from connectivity
- Smaller organisations would benefit from being able to capture / harness 5G technologies
- Build opportunities for supply chain investments coming into the region
- Connectivity between initiatives delivered across the West Midlands are key
- Connections between individual programmes and projects to make sure businesses benefits
- Would SCA or Growth Hub FindIt pages be a good place to house this signposting information?
Actions and Next Steps
Lesley Holt (WM5G) mentioned during the breakout session that a programme-agnostic 5G Case Study Library would be beneficial. Devon will speak with WM5G about their case study library and determine whether this is the best place for the programme-agnostic guide then progress accordingly.
Holly Marshall (Sherbourne Digital Network) mentioned during Panel 2 that SMEs need an easy-to-use tool that helps them calculate cost/benefit ratios for 5G projects. This idea is open to all Smart City Alliance members. Please contact Devon (email@example.com) if you’d like to get involved.
Smart City Alliance members will integrate 5G into Future High Streets Fund conversations, especially from a creative perspective and with creative businesses in mind.
Devon and Sarah will think about the role the SCA in our existing structure can play in bringing some of these conversations together.
Devon and Sarah will speak with Clive Bawden about discussing governance and project structures at an upcoming informal SCA session.
Smart City Alliance network will signpost demand-side organisations to 5prinG and WM5G for upcoming Accelerator programmes.
Slides, Additional Information, and Recordings
You can view the main event slides here.
You can read more about WM5G here.
You can read more about BCU’s work with 5G here.
You can view Hector Alemany-Briz’s slides about 5prinG here.
You can view Paul Fairburn’s slides about uXplore here.
You can read more about the Sherbourne Digital Network here.
You can watch the recording of the event below: