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WM5G sets Birmingham City Council on path to boost digital connectivity in record time

Birmingham City Council has agreed the first Open Access agreements with Telecoms infrastructure providers to use council lampposts to host so-called ‘small cells’. These add greater network coverage and device connection capacity for mobile networks where large masts alone cannot meet user needs.

Typically, such agreements take more than 12 months to put in place but, thanks to support from WM5G, this has been reduced to just six working weeks. The open licensing agreement has been led by the Digital City and Highways teams in the Council and will speed up access to the city assets, resulting in faster deployment of 5G across the city.

Rhys Enfield, director of Infrastructure Acceleration at WM5G, explained: “As we head into the Internet of Things age, the need for fast, reliable internet connections and increased capacity has never been greater.  If we’re to realise the full benefits of the digital age, small cells – which can be hosted on publicly-owned assets such as street lamps, buildings and street furniture – have a key role to play providing secure, reliable mobile networks

“The administrative process involved in identifying suitable locations and getting the right legal agreements and contracts in place typically takes more than 12 months to complete – adding cost and delay to the process. However, thanks to support from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)’s Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA), we have been able to work more closely to reduce this timescale to less than two months.”

The DCIA was created by DCMS to help smooth the roll out of wireless networks, including 5G, across the country and ensure UK PLC is well placed to take advantage of opportunities arising from the digital age.

Peter Bishop, Director for Digital and Customer Services at Birmingham City Council, said: “We’re proud to be among the leading Councils in the country to agree Open Access Agreements that will enable the roll out of crucial telecoms infrastructure across Birmingham much more quickly. As well as improving coverage and bandwidth, it will also improve service continuity, which will be crucial to supporting digital innovations, such as the safe operation of autonomous vehicles, as well as buildings, infrastructure monitoring and remote healthcare. It will also play a key role improving digital inclusion across the city.”

As part of the DCIA programme, WM5G is working with a new platform provided by Sitenna that maps the location of publicly-owned assets capable of housing mobile infrastructure, together with their associated legal agreements and agreed market rates for use across the West Midlands Combined Authority region. The expedited signing of the Open Access Agreements between Birmingham City Council, Freshwave and Ontix has demonstrated how such initiatives will be key to speeding up the role out of upgraded network infrastructure across the country over coming years.

Nick Wiggin, head of partnerships at Freshwave, said: “We’re delighted to have signed this open access agreement with Birmingham City Council and are looking forward to working with both the council and the mobile network operators to enhance connectivity in the community. Having signed open access agreements with dozens of local authorities, we know how they help speed up the rate of digital deployment. This in turn unlocks the many benefits of connectivity, such as encouraging innovation and reducing digital exclusion.”

Richard Williams, director of acquisition at Ontix, said: “Ontix is delighted to have secured the rights to be able to work with Birmingham City Council to help improve the mobile connectivity experience for businesses, residents and visitors across this incredible city.

“Ontix is a leading light in wireless technologies; providing the critical infrastructure that underpins a truly Smart City, helping unlock the real potential of the Internet of Things. This infrastructure rollout, in partnership with Virgin Media O2, will see Ontix making its first significant investment in the city, and will play a major role helping the Council take another step towards achieving its ambitions of becoming a leading international digital city.”

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) is supplying the small cells used by both Freshwave and Ontix.

Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2, added: “Pioneering trials like this are helping to boost connectivity in urban centres, meaning more people than ever before can benefit. Hosting small cells on existing kit means faster rollouts and less disruption – a win-win for consumers and local authorities with ambitious digital agendas.”

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West Midlands 5G (WM5G) West Midlands 5G (WM5G) was the UK’s first region-wide 5G innovation company and formed part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, 5G Tests and Trials programme. Since its inception in 2018, WM5G has achieved considerable success in helping the West Midlands become the best-connected region in the UK for 5G. The organisation is also successful in testing and proving transformational benefits from breakthrough 5G services in healthcare, transport, manufacturing, and other sectors via their 5G testbeds and 5G accelerators in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry. Following WM5G’s success, the organisation is evolving the company to focus on accelerating the deployment of advanced connectivity, delivering further innovation and supporting organisations to adopt the benefits from connectivity, the internet of things and data & AI solutions. Their mission is to make it radically simpler for public and private sector organisations to gain the benefits from these new technologies – building on the real-world expertise and experience from WM5G. Digital Birmingham Digital Birmingham is the City’s brand that showcases the City’s digital credentials and reputation as a leading digital city ( It is supported by the Birmingham Digital Partnership, a combination of private and public organisations, who champion Birmingham’s ambition as a leading digital city and promote Digital Birmingham nationally and internationally, attracting investment and support from business and government, to accelerate sustainable economic growth and address some of the City’s grand challenges through digital, technology and data enablement. Sitenna Modern infrastructure (incl. 5G wireless, Smart Cities and EV charging) has a problem. Whilst analysts are claiming exponential growth in deployments in the coming years, the truth is that the process of site acquisition and management is currently manual, archaic and painful. Sitenna has developed software to digitise the process reducing site acquisition from currently 24 months to a matter of weeks. Sitenna’s SaaS platform supports Real Estate, Local Government, Infrastructure Providers and Operators to acquire, manage and monetise their estates for modern infrastructure. Sitenna, recently named Birmingham Tech Start Up of the Year, is a technology company that was part of the prestigious Y Combinator accelerator programme in Silicon Valley. The platform currently managed over 800,000 assets in the UK and has expanded its operations to the US market. It counts Y Combinator, Samsung Next and Merus Capital amongst its investors and has offices in Birmingham and London, UK; Limerick, Ireland; Atlanta, GA, USA

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