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Digital minister aims to break down the final barriers to 5G

Manny Pham
March 27, 2018

James reaffirms government’s commitment to becoming a world leader in 5G

5G is more than just improved latency and download speeds, it is an architecture we are slowly evolving to with myriad possibilities we read about every day.

As horrifying as Charlie Brooker’s dystopian science fiction series Black Mirror is, it highlights some exciting benefits (if you look past the murderous robotic dogs).

Driverless pizza delivery cars, improved software algorithm in datings apps and pinpoint tracking with a high-definition video feed.

This will all be possible or improved with the commercial rollout of 5G, expected to release in the UK around 2020. Minister for digital Margot James reaffirmed the government’s commitment to become a leader in 5G, pledging to break down barriers through its deployment.

The minister was speaking at O2’s ‘The Value of 5G for Cities and Communities’ report launch at the IET London venue, to a room of media representatives and industry figures.

James succeeded minister Matt Hancock, who was promoted to Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in January.

She previously served the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

“We want to be world leaders in 5G, from healthcare to transport,” James said.

“5G’s ultrafast connectivity will help establish an ecosystem where devices and buildings will be connected, creating a system for systems that interact with everything around them and it will enable the smart cities of the future.”

The minister is looking to improve collaboration between the DCMS and more established base government departments on the deployment of 5G technologies.

“We can work together better as departments, and that was perhaps one of the reasons why I was moved across.

Obviously, I have great respect for the officials and ministers in the BEIS department, I know them. It will be easier, I feel, to oil the wheels, we’re a very different
department culturally.

DCMS is a smaller and newer kid on the block. BEIS is super established and big, that is an issue but we can overcome that.

One of the things we can have in common is we both rely a lot on the department of communities in local government to actually get the sanctions we need at a local level to bust these barriers.”

The minister brought attention to the billion-pound investment into the UK’s digital strategy.

The investment is being rolled out in phases, going into projects such as 5G testbeds; £16 million was invested into a testbed in the University of Surrey last year.

Recently, £25 million was granted to six firms for new testbeds – between £2 million and £5 million was allocated to those selected.

The minister added: “Creating a 5G ecosystem has many challenges, which is why we’re investing a billion pounds into the digital infrastructure, including our 5G programme of test beds to simulate future 5G use.

That money also funds deployment and technical projects that address some for the practical and economical challenges, including 5G deployment.

These projects will test 5G in a range of applications from industry to health, building an evidence case of what is possible and what it will deliver on wider fronts.

“We’ve already looked forward to the next phase of the programme, we know that greater collaboration between local areas and land owners is crucial to delivering our ambition in becoming a world leader in 5G.”

The DCMS has established a new local area group which includes landowners, local councils, Ofcom and businesses, to set up and follow through with plans for connectivity, with the aim to reduce inconsistent policies in the UK.

James said this was a “fundamental” move in the rollout of 5G connectivity. The minister said local councils need to be educated on the benefits of 5G and believes “a lack of of awareness” and “inertia” to be the hurdles in the way of progress.

“To help local areas develop local plans to develop digital connectivity this is going to be a fundamental part of our
industrial strategy,” she said.

“This should help the inconsistencies in deploying digital infrastructure around the country.

“We will be developing a programme to get local public sector buildings to host masts and infrastructure,” she added, stating the full fibre challenge has upped awareness.

“It’s getting local authorities to bid for money for fibre to roll out. I want to see more money go into that programme because it’s getting local authorities to participate and understand about the technology.”

The minister spoke on full fibre broadband – O2 CEO Mark Evans said fibre connectivity is only three per cent in the UK when in Spain the figure is 70 per cent.

James said: “In the past 18 months we’ve taken significant steps to the commercial rollout of full fibre broadband, including the establishment of £400 million digital infrastructure, investment funds and launching a £200 million local full fibre network programme introducing fiveyear business rates relief for new fibre installations.

“One of the key strategic objectives of the full fibre programme is to stimulate commercial investment in full fibre networks in both rural and urban locations across
the whole of the UK. So we’re seeing some encouraging results on this front.”

There is still work to be done, admitted James, and a future telecoms review will be published next summer detailing progress.

“The mobile industry has a crucial role to play here. We need to establish what is needed to create the optimal conditions for long-term sustainable investment in the UK
telecoms market.

“We know there is a range of view conflicting views on important subjects in the UK mobile industry which is why we’re setting up this commission and why were having this debate now to get as much consensus we can on the best approach to drive the future of digital connectivity.

“We plan to publish the findings of the review this summer. We know collaboration will be key to achieve our shared 5G ambitions.”

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