Following the publication of the UK’s spring budget, the government has released a policy paper entitled ‘Next Generation Mobile Technologies: A 5G strategy for the UK’. Among the headline elements of the paper, the state has announced its intention to create a new ‘national 5G Innovation Network’ which will be used to trial and demonstrate 5G applications. Detailing its plans, the government will initially invest up to GBP16 million (USD19.5 million) on a ‘cutting edge’ facility equipped with appropriate technology to run the trials, which it says will be delivered via several leading 5G research institutions working together in 2017/18. Looking further ahead, an end-to-end 5G trial is expected in early 2018, with a number of ‘testbed spokes’ coming on stream from 2018/19. Funding for future trials will be awarded on a competitive basis, the paper notes.
Concurrently, the government is establishing a new centre of 5G expertise in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to ‘ensure that work across the UK to develop 5G capabilities is joined up in a way that meets the strategic objectives of the programme’. Meanwhile, a further GBP200 million will fund a programme of local projects to test ways to accelerate market delivery of new full-fibre broadband networks. The programme envisages the setup of better connections to business and residential premises across the UK and helping to deliver fibre connections that will support 5G. In revealing the funding plans, the government said it recognised that having ‘access to fibre is a critical limiting factor in the deployment of 5G and will continue to drive the deployment of new fibre networks’.
The policy paper also notes that the government intends to work with local telecoms regulator Ofcom to identify and tackle unnecessary barriers to infrastructure sharing. In that vein, it will look to ensure that operators can get fair access to fibre on reasonable terms, while exploring the scope for a duct and pole access remedy as part of the next Business Connectivity Market Review conducted by Ofcom; it expects to report on progress in this area by the end of 2017. Ofcom will also be tasked by the government to review and report back to the DCMS by the end of this year on the scope for the spectrum licensing regime to facilitate better 4G and 5G deployment at national, regional and local levels – including in-building usage. Finally, the government will work with the watchdog to assess the feasibility of 5G sharing in the 3.8GHz-4.2 GHz band, and to agree clear timescales and milestones for further work in this area.