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UK government announces plans and investment to evolve future telecoms

As part of a national mission to connect all communities, government unveils an investment package worth almost £150m to put the UK at the forefront of future research and £40m to boost 5G tech take-up

The UK government has unveiled a new strategy and announced further investment to boost digital connectivity and put the UK at the forefront of future telecoms technologies.

This builds on its 2022 launch of the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN) and a £110m investment programme scheme for universities to develop 5G and 6G services.

Launched by UK technology secretary Michelle Donelan, the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy has the ultimate ambition of unlocking growth, innovation and potential across the country by deploying new technologies that it said would change people’s lives and the way businesses operate, at a time when connectivity is significantly evolving.

From driverless vehicles, robots and drones on the factory floor to making cities smarter, cleaner and less congested, the government said innovation is set to be supercharged.

The plan looks to “blanket” the UK with the fastest, most reliable wireless coverage available. While 77% of the population already has access to basic 5G from one provider, the new plan commits to all populated areas to be covered by standalone 5G by 2030.

The announcement has also committed £8m to delivering high-speed broadband for up to 35,000 of the UK’s most remote properties. Under the scheme, homes and businesses in remote areas that are unable to access gigabit-capable broadband will be given funding to link them up to satellites orbiting the globe, giving them a broadband connection up to 10 times faster than what is currently available to them, according to the government.

Additionally, a £40m 5G innovation fund will promote investment and adoption of 5G by businesses and public services, helping them unlock opportunities to use advanced wireless connectivity, thereby generating value, innovation and growth at a local level. 

The government claimed the strategy set out a clear pro-investment framework for mobile network operators by driving down deployment costs and improving demand, and ultimately helping the mass adoption of 5G across the UK.

Interestingly, given the potential merger of Vodafone and Three UK, the government also reconfirmed that there was no “magic number” of mobile operators and that all decisions on consolidation were for the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority to make.

“Our Wireless Infrastructure Strategy sets out our plan to ensure everyone, no matter where they live, can reap the benefits of improved connectivity. We are doing this by ensuring all populated areas in the UK will be served by what I call ‘5G-plus’ technology by 2030. We are also committing £8m to provide satellite connectivity for our most remote communities so that no one is left behind,” Donelan remarked.

“We are also supporting long-term economic growth in the UK with a £40m fund to encourage innovative 5G investment across the private and public sectors. This will help industries transform at a time when the ways we communicate, work and do business are on the precipice of significant evolution.

“This package of measures turbocharges our progress towards becoming a science and tech superpower with a substantial initial investment in the future of telecoms. We want to ensure that 6G is developed to meet the needs of people and businesses right across the UK and bolster our international competitiveness throughout the economy.”

Hamish MacLeod, chief executive of Mobile UK, the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators, welcomed the strategy, saying it recognises the challenges faced by operators in rolling out full 5G.

“We are encouraged by the commitment to ensure net neutrality regulations are fit for purpose, a role for public investment in 5G, and a call to Ofcom to review annual spectrum fees,” he said. “World-class mobile connectivity must be based on a framework that incentivises investment; this strategy marks an encouraging first step along that road, and we will work with the government to ensure this is what it delivers.”

As it was setting out the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, the government also announced a long-term national mission to ensure the UK is at the forefront of adopting and developing 6G, the future of digital connectivity.

As part of a fully fledged 6G strategy, the government said it would ensure that the next generation of mobile connectivity meets the needs of people and businesses across the UK, committing up to £100m of funding initially to shape and drive early-stage research into 6G and influence global standards setting.

It also said it was putting in place plans to speed up the deployment of faster internet connectivity through work with local authorities and the telecoms industry to further trial the use of flexible permits for roadworks to install fibre in a number of areas.

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