Government investment to expand 5G coverage in UK, as Digital Poverty Alliance says connectivity is a necessity for everyone
The government this week set out its plan to bolster the faltering spread of 5G networks across the United Kingdom.
The government digital connectivity plan announced “an investment package worth almost £150 million, with up to £100 million to put the UK at the forefront of future research, and £40 million to boost 5G tech take-up.”
The government money comes amid doubts the UK government’s targets for the deployment of next generation communications technologies are likely to be achieved.
Indeed, the deployment of 5G networks in the UK have mostly stalled in cities, despite the UK’s early launch and adoption of 5G networks globally.
In December 2018, Ofcom warned that while broadband and mobile services have improved in the UK, large areas – and particularly rural areas – were still “poorly served”.
The government is seeking to blanket the country with wireless coverage, with an ambition for all populated areas to be covered by ‘standalone’ 5G by 2030. The government said that 77 percent of the population already has access to basic 5G from one provider.
The government said that a £40 million 5G innovation fund will promote investment and adoption of 5G by businesses and public services.
The government also said that an additional £8 million will be allocated to deliver high-speed broadband for up to 35,000 of the UK’s most remote properties.
Under the new scheme, homes and businesses in the most remote areas that are unable to be connected to gigabit-capable broadband will be given funding to link them up to satellite services.
The new plans and investment to boost digital connectivity were unveiled by Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan on Tuesday, as part of the new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy.
The government says the additional connectivity will be necessary for the arrival of new technologies, such as driverless vehicles, robots and drones on the factory floor, as well as to make UK cities smarter, cleaner, and less congested.
“To help the mass adoption of 5G across the country, the strategy sets out a clear pro-investment framework for mobile network operators by driving down deployment costs and improving demand,” said the government.
“The government has also reconfirmed that there is no ‘magic number’ of mobile operators, whilst noting all decisions on consolidation are for the Competition and Markets Authority,” it said.
The government noted that the UK is due to hit 75 percent gigabit broadband coverage this month, up from just 6 percent in 2019, and is on track to deliver 99 percent by 2030.
“Our Wireless Infrastructure Strategy sets out our plan to ensure everyone, no matter where they live, can reap the benefits of improved connectivity,” said Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan.
“We are doing this by ensuring all populated areas in the UK will be served by what I call ‘5G-plus’ technology by 2030,” said Donelan. “We are also committing £8 million to provide satellite connectivity for our most remote communities so that no one is left behind.”
“We are also supporting long term economic growth in the UK with a £40 million fund to encourage innovative 5G investment across the private and public sector,” said Donelan. “This will help industries transform at a time when the ways we communicate, work and do business are on the precipice of significant evolution.”
“This package of measures turbocharges our progress towards becoming a science and tech superpower with a substantial initial investment in the future of telecoms,” Donelan concluded. “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.”
The government has also announced a new long-term national mission to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of both adopting and developing 6G.
The government has committed up to £100 million of funding initially to shape and drive early-stage research into 6G and influence global standards-setting.
Necessity, not luxury
The government’s additional connectivity funding was welcomed by Elizabeth Anderson, COO for the Digital Poverty Alliance, but she also sounded a note of caution about rural coverage.
“It is fantastic to see the government recognising the importance of connectivity for all, which in the long run will benefit the whole nation,” said Anderson. “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,” said Anderson.
“While it is great to see the government investing in the telecoms industry and wireless connectivity, a continuous and universal push to achieve the goals this government plan, and our organisation, set out to achieve, is necessary,” said Anderson.
“With millions of people in the UK cut off from the online world, it should no longer be the case that individuals miss out on opportunities because they cannot get access to connection and 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,” Anderson concluded.