Birmingham – the new Mecca for MedTech, FinTech and CAV companies

Business Insights

Gearoid Collins, Chief Commercial Officer at Vilicom examines some of the reasons why and looks at the inbuilding mobile coverage state of play in the UK’s fastest growing technology hub

The West Midlands has historically been a region associated with heavy industry and manufacture, to the extent it is often referred to as the “Black County” due to the prevalence of coal mines and spirals of black smoke billowing out of its factories’ industrial chimneys. This stereotypical perception, however, does not do the region justice at all. Thanks to excellent transport and communications networks, the presence of several top medical universities with pioneering research facilities and a highly skilled workforce, Birmingham is now considered to be the second most important technical city in the UK.

Extensive 5G coverage (the West Midlands was the UK’s first multi-city 5G testbed) and widely rolled out dark fibre networks have been integral to the region’s digital success. A number of medical research institutions, including the world-class “MD-TEC (Medical Devices Testing & Evaluation Centre), a custom-built facility intended to support medical technologies and life science businesses across the region, have established themselves in Birmingham. The UK’s second largest teaching hospital (the Queen Elizabeth Hospital) is based here, and finance company, Deloitte, has recently launched a health tech hub in the city to accelerate digital innovation through collaborations between technology companies and healthcare providers.

The West Midlands is also UKs fastest growing finance sector. Deutsche Bank, PWC and HSBC all have a strong presence here and Birmingham is fast becoming the hotbed for FinTech companies, again because of its excellent transport and comms networks and compelling leasing opportunities compared to London. The region is also making waves in the CAV (connected autonomous vehicle) space, with companies like Jaguar Land Rover and its self-teaching driverless cars leading the way.

Integral to these three sectors and indeed to all businesses at the forefront of innovation is a robust digital infrastructure and, more importantly assured mobile coverage. Cellular connectivity, 4G to be precise, is the driving force behind most M2M communications in existing IoT networks because its universal, it's cheap, and, with encryption, it's secure. However, delivering the levels of coverage needed for seamless interconnectivity between people and machines can be the single biggest stumbling block for many of these leading edge organisations because their very premises/research labs etc typically block mobile phone signals, particularly 4G and 5G signals because of their short frequency ranges.

Let’s look at Birmingham’s largest hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, as an example. This teaching hospital has more than 1,213 beds, 30 theatres, the largest single site critical care unit in Europe, a Major Trauma Centre, a helipad, not to mention its various learning facilities. A proportion of its clinics, operating theatres, wards, it’s A&E control room will typically be void of a mobile phone signal because of their location within the hospital campus. By the same token, the healthcare sector is under pressure to embrace IoT as part of its digital transformation programme to reduce costs, streamline operations and deliver better patient outcomes. Digitized services are unworkable in many healthcare establishments, however, because of latency and performance issues caused by outdated comms rooms blighted with synchronisation and efficiency challenges, often resulting in partial or total system failures.

FinTech is another sector that is reliant on ubiquitous mobile connectivity. Banks and other financial institutions have undergone a major transformation with increased usage of mobile banking and web banking apps. Their digital platforms also require large scale integration with third-party technologies such as eCommerce apps, gaming applications, food delivery applications, etc to deliver seamless end user experiences. The critical nature of this highly regulated sector means that all underlying digital infrastructures must be resilient, enable superfast processing, be available 24x7 and be fully compliant with GDPR. Seamless cellular coverage is integral to these behind-the-scenes requirements as it is the trigger mechanism to digital quality assurance processes, predictive maintenance technologies and potential cybersecurity breaches.

Finally let’s take a look at the CAV space, If driverless vehicles and mobility initiatives are to be workable in real world scenarios and assure vehicle and passenger safety, said vehicles must be able to seamlessly communicate with each other using vehicle to vehicle (V2V) or vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) technologies. Integral to this is 5G connectivity but this next generation network is by no means universal, not even in the West Midlands. Much work is still needed at carrier level before autonomous vehicles can go mainstream.

Whilst 4G coverage is now universal, mobile signal quality is dependent on a range of factors including location, topography, number of users and the services used. Take that signal indoors and its strength will deteriorate by default because of a building’s physical attributes. There are many different ways MedTech, FinTech and CAV companies can overcome this dilemma depending on the building type/size the number of interconnected devices in use, services needed etc. These include Small Cell, DAS, mobile repeaters or indeed a private 5G mobile network (PMN). Facilities managers, for the most part, however, have limited experience in their deployment and need third party assistance when it comes to selecting a best fit solution because if this is not done correctly it can make a bad mobile coverage situation even worse.

Enter Vilicom

With 20 years plus experience in enabling businesses across all markets to upgrade their operations and drive innovation, MedTech, FinTech and CAV companies can rely on Vilicom’s in the field experience and knowhow to commission a mobile coverage solution best suited to their specific requirements. To learn more about how we use best-fit vendor equipment approach to overcome your connectivity dilemmas, please get in touch.