West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has appointed Mark Stansfeld, co-founder and former chairman of Giffgaff, to chair the West Midlands 5G (WM5G) board of directors.

WM5G is delivering the UK’s first region-wide 5G testbed and Stansfeld joins at a pivotal time for the for the organisation with WM5G is entering its next exciting phase of delivery.

Stansfeld succeeds Igor Leprince, a telecoms executive, angel investor and board chairman. Leprince successfully chaired WM5G over the last year taking the company from inception into delivery. Leprince leaves with the thanks of WM5G and its backers to take-on another Group CEO role in the telecoms sector.

Stansfeld’s 30 years’ experience in the telecommunications sector and local knowledge of the region are expected to bring real value to the role.

Most notably, Stansfeld currently chairs both the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and Worcestershire 5G – the testbed focussing on advanced manufacturing output and new applications and business models within the Industry 4.0 sector.

He also holds a strategic role as an advisory board member of Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) funded innovation network UK5G. Mark is also Chair of Airband Rural Broadband serving rural communities in the Midlands and South West with broadband connectivity and helping to close the digital divide.

In his role as chair, Stansfeld will assume responsibility of overseeing WM5G’s programme of activity and report into the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).

Upon his appointment, he said: “I am pleased to be joining West Midlands 5G at such a crucial point in its journey. Never before has connectivity been so important to our society, keeping us close to our family and friends amid unprecedented times.”

“WM5G has the potential to make a real and positive difference to people, businesses and the public sector in the region and I’ve seen first-hand in my work with Worcestershire 5G, how the technology presents endless opportunities.”

“As someone who has had the chance to travel the world with my work, I couldn’t be happier to be here in the West Midlands – my home region – where I can start to engage our stakeholders and build on existing relationships, to guide WM5G on the next step of its exciting journey. It is our duty to ensure the West Midlands remains a national leader in 5G innovation.”

Deborah Cadman, Chief Executive at West Midlands Combined Authority, added:  “We are very pleased to be welcoming somebody of Mark’s calibre and relevant experience to steer WM5G forward at this critical and exciting time. His leadership experience within the telecoms sector and evident passion for digital technology innovation will prove immensely beneficial as WM5G expands its scope of work across the region. I’d also like to thank Igor Leprince for his excellent chairmanship of WM5G over the last 12 months and to wish him all the best in his new role.”

WM5G’s initial focus has been on the deployment of the necessary infrastructure required for 5G services but this next phase has already seen the launch of the first 5G accelerator of its kind in Birmingham, known as 5PRING, with a further two to follow in Coventry and Wolverhampton. The facilities will provide businesses and public sector organisations with the opportunity to experience and take advantage of 5G through new applications and services first-hand.

Other examples include transport, where several use-case projects investigating the role 5G has in improving transport, congestion and emissions have taken place. The next phase, which is currently in progress, is the 5G-Enabled Road and Rail Transport Trials competition, with £2.5m of grant funding available to be invested in innovation projects that develop new services or products.