UK outlines plan for 5G testbed dream on a budget

The UK Government’s Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has unveiled Urban Connected Communities Project which promises funding to the winning city to drive 5G technology research and deployment.

Over the next couple of weeks, local or combined authorities with a coverage area in the region of 500,000 people will be able to apply to be part of the programme, though so far it is unclear how many cities would be accepted as part of the initiative, or how much money will actually be spent, Digital Minister Margot James’ statement suggests it will be quite limited.

“This is a huge opportunity for an urban area to become the flagship of our ambitious programme to make Britain fit for the future and a world leader in 5G,” said James. “Trialling 5G at scale across an entire city is a chance to prove the economic benefits predicted from this new technology, test different methods of deployment and boost the connectivity of ordinary people working and living there.”

The money itself will be taken from the £200 million assigned so far to develop 5G technologies as part of over £1bn investment in next-generation digital infrastructure, but the UK track record in actually spending money is woeful. In each budget statement over the last 12 months, a notable chunk of change has been set aside for the development of these technologies, but the amount sitting in the bank account never seems to grow or shrink.

The government is spending money, but in comparison to other nations, it is very limited. Last month, the government gave £23.8 million to six companies and local authorities to develop 5G initiatives. While this seems like good progress, it is essentially one of the only examples where the government has actually spent. Right now, DCMS is proving excellent as congratulating itself for allocating £1 billion for its Digital Strategy, but unless the promise actually hits the economy, what’s the point in it?

In terms of where the money would be allocated, according to research from Demographia, there are only 14 urban regions in the UK which exceed the 500,000 benchmark the government seems to have set above. The areas are as follows:

City Population
London 10,585,000
Manchester 2,705,000
Birmingham 2,565,000
Leeds-Bradford 1,985,000
Glasgow 1,240,000
Southampton-Portsmouth 905,000
Liverpool 885,000
Newcastle upon Tyne 805,000
Nottingham 775,000
Sheffield 720,000
Bristol 670,000
Belfast 620,000
Leicester 555,000
Edinburgh 505,000

Other areas would be considered, though the way in which it phrased reminds us of PR statements where something has been said with the primary objective of appeasing those who have been hurt. This of course a measure of local authority and urban areas, so there might be some other areas which would sneak in, but the UK is not a huge country. There aren’t that many areas which would meet the government criteria.

Other criteria which will be taken into consideration include ‘pinch spots’ of weak connectivity throughout the area as well as areas of high demand such as mainline stations or city centres where heavy usage rather than a lack of signal leads to not-spots.

While we don’t like to be cynical, the copy and paste promises from UK politicians when it comes to investment in digital infrastructure is starting to get frustrating. The practise seems to be offering promises of restoring the UK to the top table of the global economy but thinking it will happen on its own. Right now, we need more concrete commitments as opposed to generic and murky PR statements.

Without spending substantial amounts of money in the short-term, the long-term benefit of the country will never be realised. The UK is doing nothing about the downward spiral right now, but it seems happy about it.

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One comment

  1. Avatar Henry Knight 04/04/2018 @ 12:02 pm

    This can’t come too soon…

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