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Government launches £25m trial fund to develop UK 5G industry

DCMS is drawing down £25m from the £740m National Productivity Investment Fund to fund a number of testbeds and trials of 5G mobile network technology in the UK

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is inviting interested parties from around the UK to apply for match-funded grants out of a £25m funding pot to develop and test 5G mobile network technology and help cement the country’s position as a leader in 5G.

Successful applicants will receive match-funded grants of up to £5m each from the 5G Testbeds and Trials fund, which is being drawn from the government’s £740m National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

DCMS is seeking a number of new locations to run tests of 5G mobile network technology, which heralds massive improvements in network speed and capacity to support more demanding, data-hungry users, and the explosion of smart devices around the internet of things (IoT).

In post-Brexit Britain, the government also hopes 5G technology will enhance the UK’s competitiveness on the global stage, according to digital minister Matt Hancock.

“We must be at the cutting edge of new technology and we are determined to be one of the first countries in the world to use 5G,” he said. “In these very early stages, we want all ideas from all parts of the country that will help us get the technology and the roll-out right to have a nationwide network of 5G innovators.

“It’s all part of our determination to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, and deliver for all citizens now and in the years to come.”

Statistics generated by the government’s Future Connectivity Challenge Group suggest that if the UK was to become a world leader in 5G, the economy could stand to benefit to the tune of £173bn of incremental GDP (gross domestic product) growth between 2020 – when the first 5G networks are expected to go live – and 2030.

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“Improving productivity requires targeted and sustained investment, which is why we are backing the UK’s digital infrastructure with over £1bn of government funding,” said Andrew Jones, exchequer secretary to the Treasury. “Whether we are doing business online or the weekly grocery shop online, strong and reliable connections are crucial.

“Today’s announcement is a big step forward in bringing 5G to the UK and ensuring our digital infrastructure is fit for the future.”

This first funding contest will look to develop a 5G ecosystem in the UK by searching for projects that can explore the potential for 5G to deliver business benefits, develop new apps and services, develop new business models, or address the commercial risk currently associated with large-scale 5G investment.

DCMS said it expected the first phase of projects to be either led by the industry, or have a strong industry component, and funding will only be granted to entities registered and working in the UK. Details of future funding opportunities – which may include large multi-year projects – will be announced in due course.

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