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UK government sets out 5G strategy and creates National 5G Innovation Network

TTV Graphic - UK Gov 5G Spectrum


  • £16 million for first phase of the collaborative facility, to run 5G trials
  • Uses Budget speech to sets out its national 5G strategy
  • Additional £200 million to accelerate “full fibre” rollout
  • Spectrum and infrastructure sharing under consideration

No sooner had the Chancellor of the Exchequer delivered his spring budget to parliament than the government rushed out its comprehensive plan to create “A 5G Strategy for the UK”. We say rushed out, as it was looking uncertain if they would meet the Budget Day deadline, but in the end they did, whilst also accidentally overshadowing another excellent report from the IET

“Such is the opportunity presented by 5G that we are acting now to set out a bespoke 5G strategy,” stated Ministers Karen Bradley and Lucy Neville-Rolfe in the document’s introduction (at least we think that’s who they are, as they appeared to sign their names with crayons and nobody thought to include any qualifying information… maybe it was rushed out after all) “This document will serve as the blueprint for how we support the development and deployment of this technology, alongside £1.1 billion of new investment designed to explore and incentivise the next generation of digital infrastructure in the UK.”

The two ministers added that “To deliver our ambitions we will be working as closely as possible with industry, investors, regulators, and researchers to refine the Government’s policy as 5G technology emerges and evolves. We will therefore keep our 5G Strategy under review and update it regularly to help maximise benefits for all of the UK.”

Rushed or not, it’s an impressive document that introduces 5G and its implications, looks at the economic case and business models, addresses regulatory issues, covers local policy and governance, as well as technology and the all-important spectrum. It’s a must-read document for anyone involved in 5G delivery, irrespective of home country.

It’s not the first time that a government latches on to a new technology or industry and sees it as means towards economic salvation, but the extent to which the UK and other countries and regional blocs are focusing on 5G is unprecedented in our industry’s relatively short lifetime.

It goes without saying that the UK government wants to be a global leader in 5G and to take early advantage of its potential and help to boost the digital economy. It’s an ambition shared by many others, after all. But the UK does have more need than most – especially in light of the upcoming Brexit process. However, it does have the advantage of already being home to a number of leading 5G and related use case research centres, such as 5GIC in Surry, King’s College London, Bristol is Open and many more. True, the country doesn’t have its own manufacturing base, but it is working hard to encourage the likes of Huawei, Ericsson, NEC and Nokia to establish centres here.

Budget details

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, included both 5G and fibre in his budget statement. He announced a new National 5G Innovation Network to trial and demonstrate 5G applications, as well as plans to roll out a series of local projects later this year to accelerate market delivery of full-fibre broadband.

The first phase of the National 5G Innovation Network will see an investment of up to £16 million in a new 5G facility created to run trials, delivered through cooperation between leading 5G research institutions. Funding for future trials will be awarded on a competitive basis. Responding to the National Infrastructure Commission’s recent Connected Future report, Hammond said the government would start developing commercial options for improving cellular coverage on roads and rail, and working with Ofcom to ensure the UK has the right regulatory environment for 5G.

As for “full-fibre broadband “, starting in 2017, the government says it will invest £200 million to fund a programme of local projects to test ways to accelerate market delivery of fibre broadband. Much of this will be focused on getting local public sector customers and buildings to sign on to reduce the financial risks of new build-outs, as well as opening up public sector ducts and other assets to allow fibre to be laid more cheaply.

Detailed proposals

The National 5G Innovation Network will be up and running later this year and will conduct initial trials through to 2018, followed by support for a number of testbeds through to 2019. A new supporting “Centre of 5G Expertise” will be created in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to ensure that work across the UK to develop 5G capabilities is coordinated to meet the strategic objectives of the programme, and it will also appoint a new “Telecoms Director”.

By the end of 2017, the Government will announce if further changes are needed to the planning and regulatory system to meet the unique challenges of 5G infrastructure deployment. It says it has already received a number of suggestions for the potential for net neutrality regulation to interact with the technical characteristics of 5G services, including network slicing. It will also work with Ofcom to identify and tackle unnecessary barriers to infrastructure sharing

The government is also keen to explore spectrum sharing, and will work with Ofcom to assess the feasibility of 5G sharing in the 3.8–4.2GHz band. It said it will prioritise making available public sector spectrum for 5G, and will continue to engage with ETSI, ITU and 3GPP.

There are many, many more proposals, ideas and promises in the document.

Instant reaction

Meanwhile, the UK industry has reacted favourably, mostly, to the news.

“The investment in 5G mobile technology is an important step to ushering in speeds that are up to 12 times faster than 4G, with the key benefit being the reduction of latency times or lag on the network,” said Stuart Orr, Advisory Partner at EY. “It is also important to remember that for 5G to be a real success key players from across the industry will need to collaborate closely together.”

“The government’s plans to invest in 5G technology are vital in order for the UK to retain its position as a digital leader in Europe,” said Dr Li-Ke Huang, 5G ‎Research & Technology, Cobham Wireless. “Research and development centres in the UK are already actively involved in validating core 5G technologies and testing their performance – but we need continual investment to support its evolution, looking at everything from chipsets to network performance.”

“The Budget investment in a 5G technology hub is welcome – as is the Government’s announcement today of a 5G strategy outlining an integrated approach to combining fibre and wireless networks to deliver 5G,” said Professor Will Stewart, Vice President, Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). “But it’s important to stress that the 5G investment announced today will not come anywhere close to bridging the investment gap needed to deliver 5G across the UK - so the Government Strategy’s recognition that regulatory modernisation is needed to make the final bill of delivering 5G more affordable, for example by enabling operators to share networks, is pivotal.”

As previously mentioned, the IET has released a new guide, “5G Networks for Policy Makers”, to help policy makers understand the many visions of 5G by identifying the policy levers that need to be actioned for the UK to roll out new 5G networks by 2020 , and then get them onto a track to make 5G transformational for the UK economy by 2025.

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