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Chris Holmes

Programme Director – Mobility at West Midlands 5G

Travel has changed radically since COVID-19, with air, road and rail transport all reducing dramatically. Meanwhile, air pollution rates in urban areas are improving.

Since last year, flights from European airports are down 90%, road travel has plummeted by 73% and public transport use has significantly reduced – by as much as 86% on buses, trains and trams in the West Midlands.

As a result, air pollution in major urban areas, such as Birmingham, reduced by nearly 20%.

Society needs a more agile transport system to cope with social distancing and preserving the benefits of lower emissions.

5G provides significantly faster, more efficient and more reliable network coverage, as well as the capability to host more smart devices, furthering the development of the ‘Internet of Things’.

As a result, 5G has the potential to accelerate key transport trends such as electrification, autonomous vehicles and mobility as a service.

Travel has changed radically since COVID-19, with air, road and rail transport all reducing dramatically.

The West Midlands has been pioneering transport innovation – including 5G – since being named the UK’s first Future Mobility Zone (now ‘Future of Transport Zones’) in 2018, which saw funding invested into the development of new technology designed to make journeys easier, smarter and greener.

The COVID-19 outbreak has only hastened this process.

Better on-street parking

West Midlands 5G’s (WM5G) recent trial with technology start-up, AppyWay, illustrated how 5G can reduce the time it takes to find a parking space.

With an average of seven minutes spent in search of on-street parking in urban areas, a solution was needed.

Owing to 5G’s low latency, AppyWay processed high volumes of data in real-time, analysing high-resolution video footage with AI. When added to data sources already available, this provided a wide geographical coverage of parking and drivers were alerted to parking availability instantaneously through an app.

This will make journeys quicker, improving traffic flow and reducing emissions.

Social distancing on public transport

In an agile response to social distancing measures, we partnered with West Midlands Metro and GoMedia to trial 5G-enabled video equipment across the region’s tram network.

This will provide many potential passengers safety and comfort benefits and help to ensure social distancing is observed.

Moving forward

Looking ahead, with our sponsor, Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), we are trialling the UK’s first 5G road sensor network targeted at reducing congestion and pollution.

The installation of 5G-enabled cameras, radar and pollution sensors at many of the key junctions across the West Midlands, will provide a rich data set for analysis by control centres across the region.

The real-time, anonymised data will help TfWM effectively manage and optimise traffic flows, reducing congestion and pollution.

West Midlands 5G is the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed, backed by Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and West Midlands Combined Authority. Its mission is to accelerate the adoption of 5G technology to bring opportunities and improvements to the people, businesses and public sector of the West Midlands.

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