UK government invests in 5G connectivity

New plans for the improvement of 5G technology in the UK have been announced by the government, as we start the journey towards 6G.
18 April 2023

On April 13th, the UK government announced its Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. The Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said: “Our Wireless Infrastructure Strategy sets out our plan to ensure everyone, no matter where they live, can reap the benefits of improved connectivity.”

The plan will see an almost £150 million investment, £100 million of which will put the UK at the forefront of future research. Roughly seven years before the government sees commercial deployments, we now have a UK Vision for 6G, and the funding to ensure the UK will be at the leading-edge of future research.

Innovation in the UK will allegedly be supercharged by the strategy, meaning the UK will be ahead in telecoms technologies from driverless vehicles to making cities smarter and cleaner, unlocking growth, innovation and potential across the country.

£40 million has been allocated to boosting 5G uptake, which is aimed at arming the country with the fastest and most reliable 5G coverage possible. The funding will be focused on regions and local authorities that can establish themselves as “5G innovation regions” promoting investment in 5G by businesses and public services. As such, there will be at least hotspots of 5G uptake, though the plan falls short of establishing a flat rate of connectivity across the UK.

Advanced communication services can accelerate the digital transformation of key sectors across the UK, including services like healthcare. This means that it will be increasingly important to ensure everyone has access to sufficient technology to engage with the advances.

As such, and to tackle availability outside the hotspots, the remaining £8 million of the allocated budget will go towards creating a satellite connectivity program to connect remote homes and businesses. A new headline ambition has been established for 5G to be in all populated areas by 2030. Multiple technologies will be used to connect the hard-to-reach (or more accurately, expensive-to-reach) comunities.

In a statement regarding the news, COO for the Digital Poverty Alliance, Elizabeth Anderson said that “basic connectivity should not be a luxury, but a necessity that is available to everyone, despite their circumstances or geographical location. Lack of connection in rural areas, alongside increasing costs for data and the upcoming 3G switch-offs, continue to have a huge impact on someone’s ability to succeed in education, their chances of securing a well-paid job as well as reducing access to certain services offered by providers such as the NHS and DWP.”

Connectivity benefits everyone in the UK

As it stands, the UK is still working on enabling 4G connection to 95% of the population, so establishing the country as a science superpower may be further off than the new plans seek to claim.

According to the Technology Secretary, “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.”

Overall, the announcement is encouraging, and the scale of it proves the importance of connectivity in the UK’s economy, society, public sector, and infrastructure. The government will need support from the private sector as well as hard work from a range of stakeholders — including Ofcom, the telecoms regulator.

The Strategy is as yet only a policy framework, but its implementation would not only benefit business across the UK, but help to connect those who would otherwise miss out on opportunities; as Anderson says, “providing connectivity for all will not only benefit people on an individual level, reducing unfair barriers, but means the nation will be more equipped with individuals who can help to grow the economy now, and in the future.”