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The government has revealed the winners of a contest to set up 5G mobile network testbeds and trials as part of its effort to make the UK a global leader in 5G technology.
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Six small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) lead projects from all over the UK will each receive a slice of a £41m kitty – including £25m drawn from the National Productivity Investment Fund – to help explore the benefits of 5G for rural communities, tourism and healthcare across the public and private sectors.
Each project will receive between £2m and £5m apiece to explore next-generation mobile communications technologies that use high-frequency spectrum to deliver gigabit-speed mobile broadband services.
“We are delivering on our commitments to create a Britain fit for the future, with a thriving digital economy that works for everyone,” said digital and creative industries minister Margot James.
“The ground-breaking projects announced today will help to unlock 5G and ensure the benefits of this new technology are felt across the economy and wider society.”
Rahim Tafazolli, founder and director of the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC). added: “The 5G Innovation Centre is extremely pleased and proud to have been able to play a leading part in in supporting the DCMS UK 5G testbeds and trials programme.
“5G represents a fundamental transformation of the role that mobile technology plays in society, delivering rich new services in sectors such as finance, transport, retail and health. It will drive trillions of dollars of additional activity through the world digital economy, and the DCMS programme will ensure that the UK stays at the forefront of this exciting global race.”
In the 12 months since the government launched its digital strategy to drive the UK’s connectivity, communications and digital economy, the government claims great progress has been made, with more than 60,000 technology businesses working in the UK, and investment in the sector still buoyant in spite of Brexit fears.
By spearheading the drive to 5G, Westminster hopes that even though more advanced economices such as Japan and South Korea are likely to beat the UK to the punch in terms of full 5G commercialisation, the UK can still be among the leading global markets.
The first of the selected projects is 5G RuralFirst, a collaboration between Cisco and the University of Strathclyde, which will get £4.3m to explore 5G for rural communities, agriculture, broadcasting and utilities, spectrum sharing, smart farming using drones and autonomous farm machinery, broadcast radio over 5G, and 5G to support internet of things (IoT) projects.
The West of England Combined Authority will receive £5m to run a 5G Smart Tourism testbed, focusing on enhanced experiences for tourists using augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) technology over 5G Wi-Fi and millimetre wave technology in Bath and Bristol, with support from the University of Bristol and content from the BBC and Wallace and Grommit producer Aardman Animations.
Meanwhile, Worcestershire County Council will receive £4.8m to fund the Worcestershire 5G Consortium, incorporating the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and a number of local businesses and technology partners. This project will explore ways to increase industrial productivity through preventative and assisted maintenance using robotics, big data analytics and AR over 5G, as well as testing out new security solutions.
In Liverpool, Sensor City will receive £3.5m to run the Liverpool 5G Testbed, which will bring together a consortium of academics, health sector suppliers and local NHS trusts to explore the applications of low-cost open source 5G networks, artificial intelligence (AI), VR and the IoT to reduce the digital divide and improve healthcare support and care for the elderly in some of the most economically deprived communities in the UK.
Airspan Communications – a supplier of mobile equipment that is also bidding for a slice of the available 5G spectrum – will get £4.1m for its AutoAir testbed for connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs). This money will be used to make 5G technology available for CAV testing at the Millbrook vehicle proving ground, exploring small cells in licensed sub-6GHz and millimetre wave spectrum bands on a neutral host platform to allow multiple operators to share the same hardware using network slicing. This will be used to explore site hand-off for fast-moving vehicles, and find out how CAV solutions could be transferrable to other modes of transport, such as rail.
Finally, fibre and fixed wireless access supplier Quickline Communications will get £2.1m to run the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5Grit), trialling 5G for smart agriculture, tourism and remote communities using shared spectrum in bands usually used by TV stations, local ISPs and self-provision.
Ofcom calls for 5G input
Separately, comms regulator Ofcom has published a discussion document setting out how it plans to support 5G roll-out around the UK.
Ofcom said it was working to release more spectrum for 5G as soon as practicable, and launched an Innovation and Trial Portal to help interested parties access available spectrum for trial purposes.
It also said it would continue to work with both the UK’s central and devolved governments on aspects of network roll-out such as site access and planning, and with its peers in Europe to ensure net neutrality regulations are not allowed to act as a bar to innovation.