UK government reveals 5G Innovation Regions

Latest part of UK government plan to boost next-generation mobile services sees 10 regions spanning the UK set to benefit from fund aimed at expediting innovation driven by 5G technology

As it aims to make good on its commitment to boost wireless connectivity throughout the country, the UK government has revealed the areas in the country that will benefit from its £36m 5G Innovation Regions (5GIRs) programme that is designed to create local projects to boost advanced wireless connectivity across a wide range of sectors, including public services, sustainable farming and road safety.

Multi-local authority areas spanning all four parts of the UK – Belfast, Sunderland, Cumberland, Glasgow, Greater Manchester, North Ayrshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, West Midlands and West Sussex – will receive a share of the investment fund to boost their digital connectivity and adopt advanced wireless technologies. This will include drones to monitor crops and livestock; smart systems to reduce congestion; portable 5G networks to enable high-quality live broadcast from remote locations; proven 5G applications in advanced manufacturing; and smart communities through new adoption hubs.

The funding is also intended to drive the development and adoption of 5G and other advanced wireless technologies so that communities in towns, cities and rural areas may use advanced wireless connectivity and digital technologies can provide and attract commercial investment to grow the economy.

The 5GIR is also part of the UK government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, which 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 evolving. The UK government adds that through the new programme it is looking to stimulate demand for 5G connectivity, unlocking the potential of 5G wireless and digital technologies to life, citing research showing widespread adoption could result in productivity benefits of £159bn by 2035. 

To further boost the initiative, the UK government said it would set up an advisory group with representatives from all four parts of the UK. The board will support local areas to put recommendations to government on how to support their digital connectivity goals, encourage investment and promote adoption at a local level.

Looking at some of the local projects, Belfast City Council will have £3.8m, which it said it would use on 5G technology to digitise port operations; “5G-in-a-box” technology for high-capacity uplinks for on-location filming and production studios; and exploiting advanced wireless connectivity on transport routes. With its £3m, Greater Manchester Combined Authority will invest in 5G-enabled heat pumps to accelerate the creation of Smart Energy Grids, as well as create a digital road network to reduce congestion and carbon emissions.

West Sussex County Council has £3.8m to develop and scale 5G applications to support future farming and growing practices that increase sustainable food and drink productivity. With the same level of investment, Oxfordshire County Council will create 5G Science Parks at the Harwell campus in Oxfordshire, supporting R&D in quantum, space, health and energy clusters.

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As part of the programme, the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN) – an innovation network for the UK telecoms sector – will also run a nationwide programme to drive the adoption of 5G and advanced communication technologies in key economic sectors, including manufacturing, health and social care, transport and logistics, and agricultural technology. UKTIN will be working closely with the 5GIRs through place-based working groups, helping businesses and places from across all parts of the UK benefit from access to this transforming technology.

UKTIN head Nick Johnson said: “Our support for 5G Innovation Regions is all part of UKTIN’s broader adoption programme, designed to offer practical and pragmatic guidance to help organisations and places confidently embark on connectivity projects. As a society, we will only reap the full benefits of advanced connectivity solutions like 5G when we support the public and private sectors to deploy, adopt and utilise these solutions at scale – delivering on our mission towards building a thriving UK telecoms ecosystem.”

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