The country’s biggest IT companies are lining up to bid for a £125 million city council contract to provide Birmingham with faster broadband services.
In a unique tendering exercise, the council has begun the process of acquiring a private sector partner to roll out a Fourth Generation (4G) wireless network.
Britain’s biggest local authority plans to offer the 95,000 lampposts and 230 tower blocks it owns as sites for the new network – delivering a boost for businesses and families.
A notice in the European Journal seeking bidders states that the council intends to “take a lead in finding innovative solutions to encourage citizens to be able to benefit from the digital revolution.”
As well as helping hundreds of businesses, the new system will tackle social exclusion by providing high speed wireless links in locations where internet access is severely limited.
Currently large areas of Birmingham have poor access to high speed broadband – only half have a download speed of 15 megabits per second (Mbps).
This is significantly below European Commission targets that stipulate that by 2020 all Europeans should have access to internet speeds above 30 Mbps.
Under plans drawn up by Digital Birmingham, potential suppliers will be invited to work with the city to establish the business opportunities for creating a city-wide 4G network that would make use of council property assets to house the transmission equipment.
Deputy council leader Paul Tilsley, chairman of the Digital Birmingham partnership, said: “The way people live their lives, and the way businesses operate has changed dramatically thanks to technology. This is placing a huge strain on existing wireless broadband networks, so we are keen to get ahead of the curve – it isn’t about the council becoming a mobile phone or network operator, it’s about teaming up with organisations that have the know-how, so we can bring 4G to Birmingham as soon as possible along with a commercial benefit for the city.
“Doing this underlines our commitment to making Birmingham a leading digital city, and offers us a potential source of income in the current tough economic times.”
Traditionally wireless telecommunications networks such as 2G and 3G have been built by big-name suppliers such as Vodafone and Orange, often using council assets to house equipment, based on their own investment cycles and deployment plans.
The council wants to accelerate the process by choosing a project partner to maximise the opportunities available.
It is expected the network would be fully operational by 2014, enabling Birmingham to take an early lead in the race for 4G technologies, ready to exploit the benefits this will bring, Coun Tilsley said.
Soaring demand for mobile data access, driven by the dramatic growth in the use of mobile technologies such as smart phones and tablets, is placing unprecedented demands on existing 3G networks, with 4G technologies seen as the long-term solution to satisfying this demand.
The 4G wireless network has the potential to offer fast, high capacity connectivity that will act as a catalyst for enhancing and achieving efficiencies in the way services are delivered affording low carbon and social mobility opportunities as well as providing the potential to generate income for the city.
It is thought that 4G technologies could act as a launch pad for the creation of new applications and sophisticated data services, and in doing so improve inward investment prospects.