UK publishes new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy

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The UK government has launched a new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy aimed at delivering 5G connectivity to all populated areas by 2030, as well as investing in the next generation of connectivity.

The strategy includes a comprehensive 6G plan to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of the next generation of wireless technology. The government has also established a national mission, supported by up to £100m ($130m) of initial funding, to secure the UK’s place in “future telecoms” and 6G technologies.

In the government’s Science and Technology Framework, future telecoms was identified as one of the five critical technologies to deliver growth, increase prosperity, and create better-paid jobs across the UK.

Key measures in the strategy include a new ambition of nationwide coverage of standalone 5G by 2030, with the government aiming to extend 4G coverage to 95 percent of the population. The government will also provide £40m of funding to establish eight to 10 ‘5G Innovation Regions’ across the UK.

The strategy reaffirms the UK government’s commitment to extending 4G coverage to 95 percent of the population and to deliver standalone 5G to all populated areas by 2030. £40 million will also be invested to drive the adoption of innovative 5G-enabled services for businesses and the public sector.

The government has also set out a clear strategic framework to help the private sector invest in 5G networks by supporting strong competition and investment, driving down deployment costs, and stimulating demand.

The plan includes:

  • Continuing to remove practical barriers to the deployment of 5G infrastructure
  • Confirm the government’s openness to market consolidation
  • Ensure that net neutrality rules are fit for purpose
  • Ask telecoms regulator Ofcom to review and set out a clear evidence-based and forward-looking rationale for its approach to setting spectrum fees by the end of 2023
  • Work with Ofcom and industry to refarm spectrum where it is not being used efficiently 
  • Maximise the UK’s influence at international spectrum negotiations, with the alignment of international and domestic spectrum frameworks where possible

The government will establish a national taskforce to encourage take-up and investment at the local level, and as part of wider plans to boost public sector adoption of 5G and other advanced wireless connectivity, and ensure that new hospitals have access to 5G or similar advanced wireless connectivity to support major improvements in healthcare delivery.

“We welcome the publication of the Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, which acknowledges the crucial role neutral hosts play in delivering advanced wireless connectivity,” said Tom Bennett, CTO at Freshwave.

“Customer demands for services enabled by 5G technology means our industry needs far greater mobile site density, and the shared infrastructure offered by neutral hosts allows us to get this done effectively. This not only reduces installation costs for providers but helps minimise street clutter and street works in the community. This will only increase in importance as smart cities evolve.”

The government will also establish a clear strategy for influencing the development of 6G so that the UK strengthens and maintains its role as a science superpower. It will launch an £8m fund to provide capital grants to further promote new satellite connectivity to the most remote 35,000 premises. 

The 6G strategy sets out how the government will work to shape the next generation of wireless technology to meet the needs of people and businesses right across the UK and support its international competitiveness throughout the economy.

Funding for early-stage research will be coordinated through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) via the Technology Missions Fund (TMF). Delivered via Innovate UK, funding will also be provided for application-focused challenges to support companies aiming to bring innovative solutions to market.

Rural connectivity

The UK government has launched an £8 million fund to promote satellite connectivity to the most remote areas in the country. The aim is to provide improved broadband to the 35,000 premises that are hardest to reach.

The work follows the launch of the government’s Alpha Trial programme in December 2022 which tested the capability and viability of low earth orbit satellites to deliver high-speed connectivity to homes and businesses in hard-to-reach areas.

A total of seven sites across the UK have been launched using a mixture of equipment from both OneWeb and SpaceX. The sites include some of the most remote areas of the UK, including Snowdonia, North York Moors, Papa Stour, and Lundy Island.

Project Gigabit, meanwhile, is a £5 billion initiative to provide future-proof broadband to rural areas. £1 billion has already been allocated to the project.

£1 billion has also been invested in the Shared Rural Network (SRN) to provide 4G coverage to 95 percent of the UK landmass, with the biggest coverage improvements in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.

Ofcom has been asked to improve mobile coverage reporting, including in rural areas, and to improve access to spectrum for rural network providers. A ‘Rural Connectivity Champion’ will also be appointed to report to the DSIT and Defra Secretaries of State to support the adoption of advanced wireless connectivity and promote innovation in industries like agriculture.

The aim of the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy is to future-proof and provide resilient connectivity to over 99 percent of the UK by 2030. However, the government acknowledges there will still be some areas – around 100,000 premises – where gigabit will not be possible. 

The government says it’s committed to providing improved connectivity to these areas and ensuring that rural communities have access to the connectivity they need to drive economic growth.

(Photo by Tânia Mousinho on Unsplash)

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