Cambridgeshire welcomes the news that England’s Connected Heartland to benefit from major investment in 5G

Cambridgeshire will become part of a new regional 5G Innovation Region, after Oxfordshire County Council secured £3.8 million of funding from the government.

The money will be invested initially in two major 5G projects – East West Rail between Bicester and Bletchley, and Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Didcot, Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire County Council led the joint funding bid on behalf of nine other councils – including Buckinghamshire, all Berkshire’s unitary authorities and Central Bedfordshire as well as Cambridgeshire – and will now work closely with them on a 5G project called England’s Connected Heartland.

Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “We’re committed to working with other local authorities and partners to maximise our chances of securing investment in digital connectivity and telecoms innovation.

“Today’s announcement is testament to the benefits of such an approach, allowing us to demonstrate the benefits of 5G, making Oxfordshire and surrounding counties a heartland for sustainable economic growth.”

Connecting Cambridgeshire, on behalf of Cambridgeshire County Council, will assist with the development of business models to support and accelerate the adoption of 5G and other advanced wireless use cases as part of the project. This work also supports the ambitions of the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough Combined Authority digital connectivity strategy to develop a 5G strategy for the region.

Cllr Lorna Dupré, Chair of Cambridgeshire County Council’s Environment and Green Investment Committee, which oversees the Connecting Cambridgeshire digital connectivity programme, said:

“It’s great news that Cambridgeshire is among the ten successful 5G Innovation Regions, as part of England’s Connected Heartland.

“Connecting Cambridgeshire is committed to driving the digital connectivity and telecoms innovation we need for economic growth, and to sharing the benefits of 5G among residents and businesses in both urban and rural areas. This achievement will help us on our way.”

Minister of Data and Digital Infrastructure Sir John Whittingdale said:

“We’re channelling millions into local areas to unlock the potential of cutting-edge 5G wireless and digital technologies which will reshape our public services, drive economic growth and boost innovation. This new fund will give local areas from across the country the opportunity to be at the forefront of Britain’s world-leading 5G revolution.

“For instance, by using 5G for farming and creating science parks, we’re not just helping local communities, but also encouraging new ideas all over the UK. This is more than just linking smartphones. It’s about using powerful digital connections to transform various sectors in the economy and the public sector throughout the entire country.”

East West Rail project between Bicester and Bletchley

The rail industry in the UK is in the process of evaluating new connectivity options for both track operations and passenger access to fast reliable onboard WiFi. England’s Connected Heartland project aims to demonstrate how these requirements may be met through a pilot 5G network, which will also provide trackside communities and businesses with improved connectivity.

The project will explore how 5G can be used to improve farm productivity along the route.

Harwell Science and Innovation Campus

Oxfordshire County Council plans to create a private 5G network that covers the entire Harwell campus. It has already held discussions with several organisations on site including the European Space Agency (ESA), UK Space Agency, and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). They are all supportive of building a 5G network.

Dr Barbara Ghinelli, Director, Innovation Clusters and Harwell Campus at UKRI-STFC, said: “We look forward to supporting the project team on the plan to build a full private 5G network across the whole of Harwell Campus, which will facilitate innovation options for our world leading clusters in energy tech, space, quantum and health tech.”

The European Space Agency’s recent work includes using satellites to deliver non-terrestrial 5G connectivity. It is one of the companies at Harwell that will be using the 5G technology.

Professor Antonio Franchi, Head of Space for the 5G and 6G Strategic Programme at the European Space Agency, Harwell Campus, said: “We are delighted with the success of this funding bid and the resulting plan to build a 5G network here at Harwell Science Park.

“We intend to further develop solutions at our 5G/6G Innovation Hub that will help to drive 5G digital transformation of the European economy, showcase UK businesses at the forefront of emerging space technologies, catalyse investment into the sector and enhance collaboration with international partners.  We look forward to the role this Hub may have in enhancing collaborative innovation across the ECH Region.”

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