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The bid to make 5G North East a reality: In conversation with Alan Welby

In the next few weeks, one city in the UK will be chosen to be the testbed for the next generation of 5G technologies, which have the potential to transform the way we live and work.

The North East LEP is part of the partnership, led by the North East Combined Authority (NECA), which has submitted the North East’s bid to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS). 5G North East is our bid to place the North East at the heart of the UK’s 5G revolution.

If we’re successful, it could make a massive difference to the regional economy, with conservative figures pointing to a potential £500m productivity increase by 2025 and the possible creation of 1600 job equivalents by 2025.

These are modest estimates and it’s likely that the actual figures would be a lot greater as new channels to global marketplaces open up and 5G increases the status of the North East as a place to live and do business. In addition, there would be up to £200m direct investment in digital infrastructure capability between 2019 and 2021.

The range of applications for these new technologies is vast. Every area of business and society could benefit – the way our children learn in the classroom could be transformed by the use of Augmented Reality (AR); we could see the advent of smart factories with increased connectivity allowing smart supply chains and production lines; the management of traffic flow and electricity in our smart cities could be transformed; and there are many ways we could unlock opportunities for improvements around social care and ageing.

Why should the North East be chosen? I believe we have everything needed to make the region a successful test area for these new technologies. We have the partnerships in place, with public and private sector buy-in. We have a strong culture of innovation here, with significant assets – the Stellium data centre in North Tyneside and the National Innovation Centre for Data in Newcastle city centre, plus CPI’s National Centre for Printable Electronics at NetPark in Durham.

Our large scale ‘open innovation’ approach would see businesses, universities, public institutions and communities working together with communication service providers and mobile operators, trialling and developing 5G solutions to a range of challenges in the urban, industrial, business, social and environmental sectors.

Another USP is our project-ready team which is led by 5G expert Xavier Priem who has extensive experience working for multiple telecom suppliers, their customers and network operators and who has established specialist 5G research and innovation centres and projects across Europe.

From a practical point of view, the region is the right size and has the right mix of cities, rural areas and transport infrastructure with our ports, rail links and airports providing opportunities to test how 5G can be applied to importing, exporting and the tracking of goods.

We’re ready to go and we have a strong and compelling case for the North East to be at the forefront of the UK’s drive to become a global leader in 5G enabled communications.

We know there is great support in the region for this bid and we want to take advantage of this exciting opportunity for the North East.

Alan Welby, Innovation Director
North East LEP