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DCMS adds cash to 5G testbed fund and moves to ease planning laws

The government is to invest £40m in new projects under its 5G Testbeds and Trials scheme, and will explore new ways to liberalise planning laws to support quicker 5G deployment

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced a £40m investment to run a new round of 5G mobile networking projects as part of its 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, which was first set up in autumn 2017.

Projects already run under the 5G Testbeds and Trials scheme include bringing virtual and augmented reality content to tourists visiting Bath’s ancient Roman spa, and exploring the potential of 5G applications to enhance the theatre-going experience in Brighton, as well as transport, broadcasting and healthcare.

This new phase of the programme will support work in the logistics and manufacturing sectors, and DCMS is soliciting applications from those keen to run projects that could help these industries improve their productivity and output, covering, for example, new manufacturing processes, or new means of last-mile delivery.

In a keynote address at the 5G World Conference, currently being held in London under the auspices of London Tech Week, digital minister Jeremy Wright said: “As part of our modern Industrial Strategy, we are making sure that Britain has a telecoms infrastructure that is fit for the future.

“5G is about more than mobile phone consumers having a fast and reliable connection anywhere in the country. It’s a vital piece of technology that can be used to improve the productivity and growth of our industrial sectors. That’s why we are excited to develop new trials in areas such as manufacturing and logistics that can really benefit from 5G.”

Phil Sorsky, international vice-president at wireless network firm CommScope, said: “It is positive to see any government investing in the manufacturing applications of 5G, as the technology means so much more than just quicker download speeds for consumers.

“Connected devices are talking to each other and making decisions without human intervention. As machines become smarter with more data, factories are producing more and becoming more efficient. This process will only be accelerated by the 5G roll-out, boosting the productivity and output of the UK economy.

“5G will also begin to enable the wider use of virtual and augmented reality in the manufacturing industry, for example assisting workers with complex assembly tasks and quality control, through lower latency and greater consistency.”

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At the same time, DCMS has announced that it intends to consult on proposals to simplify the planning regulations in England to support 4G enhancements and 5G builds. This will fulfil a number of the core recommendations made in 2018’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review.

Mobile UK director Hamish MacLeod said: “Getting the planning system right for future 5G and today’s 4G networks is critical to ensure the UK continues to lead the world in digital connectivity.

“It is right that the government has announced it is to look at simplifying planning processes, and we stand ready to work in partnership to ensure this can happen as quickly as possible to aid the continued roll-out of mobile networks.”

DCMS said its plans would involve tackling barriers to deployment, and supporting better conditions for private sector investment. One early step will be to make 168MHz of new spectrum, currently owned by the Ministry of Defence, available to fixed and mobile network operators. This will also fulfil government ambitions to make 500MHz of public sector spectrum open to commercial users.

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