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The newly announced UK Wireless Infrastructure Strategy from Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) includes a pot of up to £148 million to help “boost the UK’s digital connectivity’

This week, the UK government has announced a new policy framework, the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, aiming to buttress the wireless landscape as 5G technology matures and advances towards 6G. The new outline includes a number of new ‘ambitions’ for the UK telecoms industry and has allocated up to £148 million towards reaching some of these goals.

DSIT’s first priority is expanding 5G standalone (SA) coverage to all populated areas in the UK by 2030, which it says will “supercharge” the UK economy by enabling various latent technologies like driverless cars, drones, and robotics.

In short, 5G SA means coupling both 5G-enabled radio equipment with 5G core network technology, enabling much higher throughput and lower latency than non-standalone (NSA) 5G, which uses 5G radio kit alongside 4G core technology.

According to government figures, 77% of the population currently has access to 5G NSA coverage from at least one mobile operator, with Virgin Media O2, EE, and Vodafone having all announced 5G SA trials in recent months, in preparation for the arduous task of a nationwide network upgrade to 5G SA.

Alongside this 5G SA goal, DSIT has also pledged $40 million to establish 5G Innovation Regions across the UK. These Innovation Regions will set up taskforces to help encourage 5G uptake at a local level, the flagship project of which will be to equip all new UK hospitals with “5G or equivalent” wireless infrastructure.

The majority of the funds being announced, however, will not go towards 5G connectivity at all, but rather directed towards 6G research, aiming to make the UK a “science superpower” of the future.

“Our 6G strategy outlines how we will draw on our expertise and experience and provide an initial investment of up to £100 million to pioneer future telecoms and 6G research and shape the global debate on the standards which underpin it, protecting our position in an increasingly competitive global economy, securing the UK’s international competitiveness and ensuring that our wireless future works for British people and businesses in every corner of the country,” explained Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

The remaining £8 million in funding is being reserved to help connect up to 35,000 of the most hard-to-reach locations to satellite broadband. At least some of this funding will likely go to UK based low Earth orbit satellite operator OneWeb, who today announced the government had selected them to begin trials to connect very remote communities.

Underpinning these projects will be a renewed commitment to better coverage reporting, particularly for areas that are currently poorly reported upon, such as rural areas, indoor locations, and on railways.

“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,” concluded Donelan.

Ultimately, the government says that its main priority with its new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy is to create an ecosystem where the technology can flourish, building a “pro-investment framework” from which mobile network operators can expand with confidence.

As a final note, it is notable here that DSIT also took the opportunity to reiterate a point it first made in the 2018 Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, saying there is no ‘magic number’ of mobile network operators in the market. Could this be a nod towards the ongoing merger discussions between Vodafone and Three UK, hinting at a supportive government attitude towards industry consolidation?

Only time will tell.

Join the UK’s leading telecoms voices in discussion at the upcoming Connected North conference live in Manchester next week

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