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In a Budget that came up extremely light on ICT and digital compared with this time in 2015, Osborne said the government would deliver a 5G strategy in 2017 based on forthcoming evaluation by the National Infrastructure Commission on how the UK can become a leader in 5G.
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To help reach this goal Westminster will support the development of a network planning tool, which will be trialled in Bournemouth.
Fifth generation (5G) networks are not expected to be in widespread commercial use before 2020.
However, both Russia and South Korea are working on demonstrator 5G projects to be showcased at the 2018 Fifa World Cup and the Olympic Winter Games respectively.
In the UK, the University of Surrey has taken a strong lead on 5G development, launching an innovation centre in conjunction with public sector and industry partners in 2015.
Osborne also committed to expanding mobile coverage across the UK. In support of this, the government said it would make 750MHz of radio spectrum currently held by the public sector available in bands of under 10GHz – which gives mobile networks additional range – by 2022, of which 500MHz will be available in 2020.
It said: “This builds on government’s previous 2010 commitment, and will deliver wider economic benefits by generating capital receipts and by supporting innovation in digital communications services and the development of new technologies.”
In a move likely to prove hugely popular with the UK’s mobile network operators, Westminster will also relax planning restrictions for mobile masts, allowing taller masts to be constructed around the country. This will have the added effect of boosting range and expanding coverage over wider areas.
When it came to the national broadband roll-out, the government said it would partner with the private sector to establish a Broadband Investment Fund, which will operate on a commercial basis to support the growth of alternative network providers through new financing models.
It will distribute £14.5m in grants to extend ultrafast broadband coverage in the southwest of England, although it should be noted that this is only a £4.5m top-up to a fund initially announced in 2015.