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Onwards to 6G - the UK government's 'bold plan' for a connected Britain

The UK telecoms minister outlines the government's thinking on developing a digital infrastructure for the connected age

In today’s connected age, telecoms networks keep Britain’s engine running. The way we live and work is increasingly reliant on this vast network of digital infrastructure. Most of us will make use of it dozens of times a day, whether it's to make a call, check train times, catch up with emails or scroll through social media.

So it’s fantastic to see the roll out of 5G steaming ahead, with 64% of UK premises now in range of a signal. 5G is already changing lives for the better and helping businesses be more productive thanks to its rapid speeds.

It’s not just about being able to download your favourite shows in an instant. 5G is set to underpin many game-changing technologies such as driverless cars and artificial intelligence.

Through our £200m 5G Testbed and Trials programme, we funded dozens of inspiring innovation projects to ensure industries across the economy feel the benefits of the 5G revolution - from improving manufacturing processes to smart farming to 5G buoys helping save lives at sea.

But we know there is more we can do to help the industry go further. So we will soon be publishing a Wireless Infrastructure Strategy to help industry speed up roll-out, drive up adoption by businesses and the public sector and ensure regulation is not a barrier to innovation.

6G is coming

Yet 6G is already on the horizon. In the UK, we're already gaining a reputation as a leading centre of excellence in telecoms research, so we are well placed to lead the development of this next generation of network.

Telecoms giants Ericsson and Samsung both recently revealed plans to invest in 6G research and development here in the UK, our academics are already shaping how 6G will function, and in our Wireless Infrastructure Strategy we will set out plans for ensuring this technology meets the needs of people and businesses.

At the same time, we’re pushing ahead with our mission to connect the countryside via Project Gigabit - the biggest broadband roll out in British history backed by a record £5bn.

We’ve made huge progress in recent months, with major contracts in Cumbria, Dorset, Teesdale and Northumbria announced since September worth more than £128m to deliver lightning-fast connections to around 74,000 rural homes and businesses.

But this is just the beginning, with well over half a billion pounds worth of local and regional contracts currently in the process of being awarded under Project Gigabit.

We know being able to get online on the move is increasingly vital in rural areas. So we’re continuing to drive forward the Shared Rural Network which will bring 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by 2025.

While we’re stepping in to ensure hard-to-reach areas aren’t left behind, we’re also pulling out all the stops to remove the barriers holding back commercial roll out

We now have a brand new Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act which will improve negotiations between landowners and telecoms firms so agreements are reached quickly for the use of land for hosting masts and telegraph poles.

Before the year is done, we’ll have new regulations in place which require new homes to come with a gigabit-capable connection and make it easier for tenants in blocks of flats to get better broadband.

Telecoms security

The government has a responsibility not only to ensure people can access the connectivity they need, but to ensure telecoms networks remain secure and switched on.

It's why we have introduced world-leading laws enforcing one of the toughest telecoms security regimes in the world.

But the fact remains that, like many countries around the world, we are too reliant on a small handful of telecoms companies to build and maintain our networks.

To help fix this, today (13 December 2022) we’re announcing a £110m package to accelerate research on 5G and 6G network technology to boost its security and open up the market to new businesses.

Three top universities will get millions of pounds to team up with major telecoms companies - including Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson - to ensure future networks like 6G are designed to end current network setups where all equipment must be from a single supplier.

This is a global effort. That’s why the UK is joining forces with the Republic of Korea on R&D, and driving international consensus including, last week, securing the backing of Australia, Canada and the US for the UK’s principles for developing Open RAN technology, which allows network operators to “mix and match” technology from multiple manufacturers.

To ensure we remain ahead of the curve on the security of 5G and future networks, we have invested £80m to set up a state-of-the-art UK Telecoms Lab in the West Midlands.

The Lab will provide operators, suppliers and academics with the tools they need to ensure the latest network kit meets highest security standards and performance levels, as well as creating dozens of specialised jobs in telecoms and cyber security.

Taken together, the UK has a bold and clear plan for telecoms, one which is already attracting investment, creating a new generation of companies and bolstering the security of our country. I look forward to sharing more of our plans for a more connected Britain in the new year.

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