The Belfast region, led by Belfast City Council, has secured £3.8 million wireless innovation funding from the UK Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) and has become one of 10 5G Innovation Regions across the UK today.
Over £36 million is being invested in regions across the UK, including Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland to drive economic growth and innovation in key local sectors by unlocking the opportunities presented by advanced wireless connectivity and digital technologies.
Chair of Belfast City Council’s Strategic Policy and Resources Committee, Councillor Tina Black said: “This £3.8 million funding is great news for our digital innovation economy and will support the delivery of NI’s 10X Economic Vision for a decade of innovation, and the creation of better jobs with better wages.
“We are working with our Belfast Region City Deal partners to deliver a Belfast Region Wireless Innovation Programme which will support our local SMEs and high-growth sectors including creative industries, advanced manufacturing, and transport and logistics to deliver an exciting range of innovative projects powered by advanced wireless technologies.
“The programme will support our local businesses, industries, academic institutions, and public service providers to build new skills and knowledge, identify opportunities for economic growth, showcase our talented local digital innovators, and attract further investment in the region.”
Professor Liam Maguire, Chair of Digital Advisory Board for the Belfast Region City Deal and Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research at Ulster University, added: “Advanced wireless technologies, such as 5G, are a key driver of our local economy and will enable us to achieve our digital innovation ambitions across the Belfast region.
“City Deal partners are harnessing the DSIT funding to accelerate the development of innovative projects, from proof-of-concept right through to widespread adoption, to enable key sectors in the region to exploit 5G and benefit from the transformative effect of advanced wireless connectivity.”
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 the UK’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.”
The DSIT funding will be used to deliver a range of initiatives across the Belfast region including:
- Ulster University’s Studio Ulster is unlocking ‘5G-in-a-box’ technology to connect film, television, and screen production teams, filming in remote locations, to production studios in real-time, via a high-capacity 5G private network which will accelerate screen production processes in the industry. The project complements Ulster University’s £72 million cutting-edge Studio Ulster virtual production studio complex, funded by the Belfast Region City Deal and delivered in partnership with Belfast Harbour and supported by Northern Ireland Screen. Scheduled to open in Belfast in 2024, it will integrate world-class virtual production stages with a research, development, and innovation lab for real-time and virtual production.
- Belfast Harbour is harnessing 5G-led innovations to accelerate the digitisation of port operations including automatic bulk freight handling and safety improvements which aligns with their strategic ambition to become the world’s best regional Smart Port. As NI’s principal maritime gateway and logistics hub, Belfast Harbour is a major contributor to the local economy, handling more than two thirds of the imports and exports that come into and out of Northern Ireland by sea.
- NI’s public transport provider, Translink is exploiting advanced wireless connectivity to enable enhanced operations and network planning along its Glider bus routes. The use of this leading-edge technology will further improve services, maximise and optimise resources and ensure continued development of high quality, sustainable and attractive Glider services to drive modal shift for a cleaner, healthier city.
- Queen’s University is harnessing 5G digital connectivity, Building Information Modelling (BIM), Digital Twin technology and AR (Augmented Reality) to support the design and construction of a £100 million, state-of-the-art Factory of the Future at Global Point in Newtownabbey which is due to open in 2026. Funded through the Belfast Region City Deal and delivered in partnership with Ulster University and Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre will act as a springboard for manufacturing innovation in Northern Ireland and provide local companies with access to the latest manufacturing technologies.
- A 5G grant scheme, opening in 2024, will support local SMEs to develop 5G use cases and harness advanced wireless digital connectivity to grow their business.
- A 5G Enablement Programme will foster NI’s advanced wireless ecosystem through a range of outreach and engagement activities to attract investment, build skills and capacity, share knowledge, and identify opportunities for economic growth.
The UK 5G Innovation Regions Programme, which runs until March 2025, supports the implementation of the UK Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, which sets out a clear vision for how advanced wireless infrastructure can become an integral, beneficial part of the UK’s economy and society by 2030.