UK government announces further funding for tech innovators to seize 5G opportunities

Following on from the launch of the programme earlier in 2020, the UK government has made its second commitment to help business take advantage of the UK’s growing 5G infrastructures, with projects in Liverpool, Brighton, Manchester, Sunderland, Preston and Suffolk testing what such networks’ capabilities can do for UK industries. 

The new schemes follow an announcement by UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden, unveiling a £200m investment in testbeds and trials across the country to explore new ways that 5G can boost business growth and productivity, improve the lives of people in rural areas and maximise the productivity benefits of new technologies.

In addition, the government introduced 5G Create, a new £30m Rural Connected Communities (RCC) competition designed to look at how 5G can create new opportunities in industries such as film, TV, video games, logistics and tourism. This will involve seven 5G research and development projects across the UK – five in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland, with plans to expand into Northern Ireland.

Going live in April 2020, 5G Create called for proposals from sectors where the UK has a competitive advantage to use the unprecedented speed, coverage and capacity of 5G to explore and develop new commercial opportunities for it can be used for – including new prototype technologies, use cases and business models – which could then be scaled up, used across the economy and exported.

With the announcement, the UK government has now funded 24 5G testbeds across the UK, which have trialled almost 70 different 5G technologies, products and applications. The new projects will receive a share of £30 million through 5G Create, combining British creativity with innovative new uses for 5G as part of the wider 5G Testbeds and Trials programme (5GTT).

The new £30m package consists of £16.4m from the government match-funded by organisations ranging from large tech and telecoms companies to SMEs and local authorities. A total of 17 UK SMEs are involved in the projects, including those that will help to drive forward the government’s work to open up the UK’s telecoms supply chains.

Three of the six projects – 5G Edge-XR, 5G Smart Junctions and Liverpool 5G Create – will involve British SMEs trialling the use of open access 5G infrastructure and network solutions. BT’s 5G Edge-XR project will be tested in a platform that includes Samsung kit, marking the first time the South Korean telecoms vendor is participating in a UK-based 5GTT project.

The projects will see 5G to be deployed in tests of remote music events and in trials of autonomous lorries and traffic systems and they include plans to explore how the technology can transform watching live sports through virtual reality and help build fighter jets.

The use of AI-controlled traffic lights to reduce pollution and congestion will be tested in Manchester and the potential for remote music festivals using 5G will be tested by Brighton Dome. A project in Preston will aim to deliver the RAF’s Tempest fighter jet at half its current cost while BT Sport will explore how 5G can transform watching live sports through virtual reality.

With coronavirus requiring new ways of delivering health services, a private 5G network will be developed in Liverpool to provide remote NHS video consultations for low-income families unable to afford good connectivity. Another trial at the Nissan factory in Sunderland will look at 5G’s ability to boost productivity through use of autonomous trucks.

Explaining the intended ambitions from the investment, Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said: “We are helping innovative thinkers across Britain use their creativity to harness the power of 5G and boost economic productivity, cut pollution and congestion, and develop the next generation of entertainment. The new funding we are announcing today will help us pioneer new ways to seize the opportunities of 5G and bring tangible benefits for consumers and businesses across the country.”