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UK Government Kicks Off £25m Hunt for 5G Mobile Testbeds and Trials

Monday, Oct 16th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 1,089

The Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has started to hunt for the first test locations to support a future rollout of 5G based Mobile and Fixed Wireless Broadband technologies across the United Kingdom, which is supported by an initial public investment of £25m.

Tens of millions of pounds in public funding have already been contributed to setup a number of 5G focused research centres in the UK, while today’s pot of investment is specifically intended to support Phase 1 of the initial “testbeds and trials” that will help to develop the country’s “5G ecosystem“. Interested parties from all across the country are now being invited to propose their projects, which are to be supported by match funded grants worth up to £5 million a pop.

Related projects are expected to focus on anything from exploring the potential of 5G to deliver benefits for businesses; developing new 5G applications and services; exploring new business models around key 5G technologies or reducing the commercial risks associated with investment in 5G.

The funding stems from last year’s commitment by the Government to invest £740m from the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) into the country’s digital infrastructure (here), which will aim to catalyse private investment in “full fibre” (FTTP/H) networks and to support 5G trials.

Matt Hancock, UK Minister for Digital, said:

“To stay competitive we must be at the cutting edge of new technology and we are determined to be one of the first countries in the world to use 5G. In these very early stages we want all ideas, from all parts of the country, that will help us get the technology and the roll-out right to have a nationwide network of 5G innovators.

It’s all part of our determination to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business, and deliver for all citizens now and in the years to come.”

An earlier report from the Future Connectivity Challenge Group suggested that the country’s leadership in 5G could result in the opportunity to create £173 billion of incremental UK GDP growth over a ten year period from 2020 to 2030, although it’s unclear how much of that will actually stem from the specific improvements achieved via 5G alone.

Andrew Jones MP, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said:

“Improving productivity requires targeted and sustained investment, which is why we are backing the UK’s digital infrastructure with over a billion pounds of government funding. Whether we are doing business online or the weekly grocery shop online, strong and reliable connections are crucial to this.

Today’s announcement is a big step forward in bringing 5G to the UK and ensuring our digital infrastructure is fit for the future.”

As usual there’s a lot of 5G hype and plenty of talk about “cementing” the UK’s “position as a world leader in the development of 5G technology,” which is despite the fact that a good number of countries are also putting similarly strong efforts into developing and trialling the technology (some have been conducting trials since last year).

At the very least we in the UK seem to be much more proactive about encouraging and developing 5G than we were about 4G. However the technology’s success will also depend on Ofcom’s ability to settle the tiresome threats and legal challenges from Three UK and EE (here), which continue to delay the regulator’s planned auction of related spectrum. Similar issues may yet threaten future auctions too.

Meanwhile 5G is still developing towards its expected commercial launch from 2020 onwards. Arqiva and Samsung have already launched one of the UK’s first trials of a 5G based Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband network in London, which uses the 28GHz millimetre wave radio spectrum band to deliver speeds of around 1Gbps (note: the IMT-2020 specification for 5G allows for up to 20Gbps). The first official standard is due to be finalised in 2018.

Initial real-world deployments are likely to be a bit different from this. Generally it’s expected that the 700MHz band will prove useful for cheaply delivering wide 5G coverage in rural areas, albeit at much slower speeds. Meanwhile the bands around 3-6GHz will focus more on urban areas (limited range will confine their use to areas of high demand) and of course the very high frequencies above 24GHz (e.g. millimetre Wave) should support “very large bandwidths, providing ultra-high capacity and very low latency” (i.e. fixed wireless links to homes or businesses etc.).


Details of future funding opportunities for additional testbeds and trials will be available as the programme develops. It is likely that future funding will also include large multi-year projects that could be focused in areas that align with the Government’s strategic priorities, or which help to address deployment or technical challenges that help to deliver the objectives of the 5G strategy.

We understand that those interested in applying to setup such trials (no doubt this will include all of the major mobile operators) will be able to do so here, from about 10am this morning: https://apply-for-innovation-funding.service.gov.uk/competition/search .

By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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