UK government joins Global Coalition on Telecommunications, boosts broadband reach

Leading economies publish joint statement of intent to establish multilateral alliance which endeavours to promote international consensus, foster global dialogue and drive innovation in telecommunications

From the moment in 2019 when the US government first decided to put in train action against leading Chinese technology suppliers, the issues of network security and resilience have been firmly on the agendas of global authorities, and in a next step to ensure such capabilities in their countries’ infrastructures, the UK, Australia, Canada, Japan and the US have published a joint statement of intent to establish a Global Coalition on Telecommunications (GCOT), a new informal multilateral alliance which endeavours to promote international consensus, foster global dialogue, and drive innovation in telecommunications.

The GCOT has set out a shared commitment to working together to support secure, resilient and innovative telecommunication networks. The GCOT partners expect to focus on topics including, but not exclusively limited to: telecommunications supply chain diversification; future telecommunications such as 6G; telecommunications security and resilience; and telecommunications skills’ coordinated approaches to telecommunications standards development.

The partners plan to use the GCOT as a forum to exchange information on their respective policy approaches to telecommunications, including telecommunications supplier diversity, future telecommunications and related security considerations. It also plans to encourage information-sharing between respective testing and research facilities while exploring opportunities to reduce challenges around the sharing of research and intellectual property management. The coalition further intends to inform the GCOT’s efforts through what it said will be “meaningful engagement” with industry stakeholders and to promote the sharing of relevant information directly between these actors as they deem appropriate.

In addition, the GCOT partners said they intend to explore opportunities to take a complementary and cooperative approach to R&D through the sharing of information on respective national programmes and considering where there are synergies and overlaps between national priorities. This could span joint, co-funded R&D programmes, dialogues between parallel projects, and the pairing up of respective telecommunications labs.

GCOT said it recognises that research, development and innovation are primarily driven by industry, and that it will set out to work collaboratively with industry as a critical partner to achieving shared objectives. Moreover, it said it intends to look to establish “innovation bridges” across telecommunications innovation ecosystems, including through expos, hackathons and pitch sessions.

In one key example, GCOT said it intended to explore options to support principles on open disaggregation, standards-based compliance, demonstrated interoperability and implementation neutrality, such as those set out in the 2021 Prague Proposals on Telecommunications Supplier Diversity and the UK’s Open RAN Principles.

As it announced the country’s participation in the project, the UK government said telecommunications networks were critical to the economy, and that ensuring their resilience and security in a changing and increasingly interconnected world was a priority. It added: “Telecoms markets are inherently global, and by working together with some of the world’s biggest economies, the UK can remain at the forefront of efforts to diversify global telecoms supply chains, develop skills and industry expertise, and strengthen security in the face of potential risks.”

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Just as the UK government was announcing its participation in GCOT, it revealed a consultation to better understand how to improve broadband coverage for places in the UK designed as very hard to reach. These premises are among the less than 1% of sites in the UK which are considered as being too difficult to upgrade via physical cables, typically in more extreme locations such as mountainous areas or small islands.

This consultation follows the UK government’s response in February 2022 to its call for evidence on improving broadband for very-hard-to-reach premises. The consultation specifically covers a number of key areas, namely: the UK government’s policy position; its evaluation criteria for determining policy options and the potential options available; the service parameters these premises may require; and barriers to delivery that remain.

To complement this, the UK government has revealed Very Hard to Reach premises alpha trials designed to assess the extent to which low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites can be used to deliver high-speed low-latency broadband connections to more than a dozen very-hard-to-reach locations. The trials will also test the capabilities of suppliers, distributors and project partner stakeholders.

The UK government said it has already found from the trials that in these locations, satellites can deliver speeds of up to 200 megabits per second, well above the speeds capable via copper cables currently commonly used in hard-to-reach areas.

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