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MK:5G

21 December 2021

LGF Awarded: £5.3m
Total Project Cost: £8.7m
Delivery Partner: Milton Keynes Council, Satellite Application Catapult, Connected Places Catapult, The Open University, Huawei, BT, City Fibre, Tech Mahindra, Smart City and Smart Klub.
Project Status: Project approved by the SEMLEP board for 2019/20 and 2020/21 delivery
Projected Outputs: 45 new direct jobs, 200 indirect jobs, 200 SMEs supported, evaluation and monitoring report on the whole project, Base stations, radio masts, data hub servers and associated components installed.

Background

The MK:5G project is an exciting new testbed in the Milton Keynes area, including the deployment of dedicated 5G infrastructure and the creation of a data hub facility. The project will address the low levels of fast broadband connectivity currently experienced in the area, and will support the nationwide demand for 5G investment. Government (via DCMS) is launching its national roll-out strategy, building on the lessons from 3G and 4G. Notably, a reliance on the market is considered to be a failure of 4G roll-out and government and the public sector has been urged to take a more proactive role in 5G. To this end, Milton Keynes Council aims to provide access to the network that benefits Milton Keynes and the surrounding area without relying on a private network provider.

The 5G mobile network is designed exclusively for research and development purposes and will cover central MK including key sites (such as the Stadium, Bletchley & CMK rail stations, Hospital, Universities), key junctions on the M1 and a number of rural communities. The scheme will be delivered by Milton Keynes Council in partnership with a number of private partners.

The testbed is focusing on trialling applications across three core themes: Mobility, Health & Wellbeing, and Energy. Several trials are already planned across each theme and extensive datasets will be stored in the data hub.

The project also features an accelerator programme alongside the deployment of 5G infrastructure; the programme has set SMEs the challenge of working with the technology to develop in their thinking of new products and services around the three core themes. 10 businesses were selected from hundreds of applicants to develop new products with this technology, including one using AI to monitor road surface deterioration, whilst another is developing the capability to remotely monitor patterns of behaviour in health care. The purpose of the accelerator is to scaleup these developments to a more commercial footing.

The project focus has adapted from its initial aim to accelerate and create growth, now incorporating a green recovery and the sustaining of jobs into their directive. The council has identified additional investment to run further accelerator programmes using 5G to develop its ecosystem around high-tech smart tech.

SEMLEP Investment 

The SEMLEP investment will be used to build a series of base stations (7) constructed at strategic locations across Milton Keynes. These will be linked to an expanded fibre network and connected to a newly constructed data hub. This investment will facilitate the formation of a cluster of 5G technology SME’s, leading to agglomeration benefits and unlocking future growth for the region.

Impact

The project has the potential to make a significant strategic and economic contribution to Milton Keynes which may have lessons for the wider region and UK. Milton Keynes is the only city to have its own privately owned standalone 5G network covering 70% of the city and facilitating a range of ambitious testing. Swift deployment of this 5G technology will allow MK to capture an early adopter advantage, creating a technology cluster around this emerging technology and its applications making the region an attractive investment area for new businesses: growing or creating long term sustainable jobs in the region.

Fifth generation (5G) mobile networks are poised to offer many new capabilities and unlock extensive societal and commercial opportunities. Drawing on research undertaken by independent experts referenced in the DCMS analysis (1) suggest that without 5G, localities will have reduced ability to improve productivity, reduced economic growth and an ability to maintain high skilled and valuable jobs compared to areas with access to 5G connectivity.

MK:5G

Impacts to date include providing access to unique capability for local companies especially the SME community and enhanced reputation for MK and SEMLEP as leading organisations embracing new technology.

In addition, the project has already attracted additional funding into the area – a £2m grant from DCMS to develop some use cases around mobility to test autonomous connected vehicles in Milton Keynes. The vehicles will be deployed at the Stadium live site and the 5G network to monitor and operate them in a test environment. In this instance, the 5G network provides better sensors, security and quality of imagery over a 4G counterpart.

In terms of environmental benefits, the use cases for the project exploration and development of efficient mobility and energy systems management. Social and community benefits include supporting access to efficient healthcare services and testing new methods of diagnosis, supporting efficient community transport and supporting skills development in the education sector.

The MK:5G project is aligned with other LGF projects, and the nature of the scheme encourages spin-off programmes, with Milton Keynes Council as a local authority encouraging such collaboration.

The project has started to develop relationships with other projects involved in the LGF programme. For example, MK:5G are looking at opportunities to work with the Cranfield University Forensic Institute to look at the use of the 5G network for R&D and research into cyber security.

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