UK government announces even more telecoms initiatives

OneWeb pr image

Satellite broadband for a remote Scottish area, an MoU with Australia, and ‘smart lampposts’ are the latest government initiatives designed to make the UK ‘an international leader in telecoms.’

The three initiatives were announced by Technology Minister Sir John Whittingdale at an event called London Tech week. First up, the island of Papa Stour in the Shetland Islands – one of the most remote communities anywhere in the UK we’re told – will get space based internet access courtesy of OneWeb as of this week.

Clarus Networks Group is in the process of installing a specialist Kymeta flat panel today which when set up will link to OneWeb’s constellation of low earth orbit (LEO) satellites to beam down internet goodness from space.

The announcement says the panel’s installation marks its first commercial roll-out in Europe. It’s part of the government’s ‘Alpha Trial’ programme which seeks to ascertain how viable it would be to hook up very remote areas of the UK with LEO satellite-based broadband on a wider scale.

“OneWeb has always sought to use satellite connectivity to bridge the digital divide for communities and business around the world,” said Neil Masterson, CEO OneWeb. “Connectivity is vital for all but especially so for the most remote communities, and we are delighted to be working with the government and our partners on this trial to bring high-speed, low latency connectivity to those living and working on the island.

Meanwhile the Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP) was also announced, which will dish out up to £1.5 million (matched by ‘smart service providers’) for 6 local authority-led pilots, the beneficiaries of which will be determined by a competition. The aim is to deploy ‘advanced digital infrastructure’ – and the only example it gives of this is a smart lamppost.

This Swiss army knife of street furniture would provide a ‘range of smart services’, such as improved mobile network connectivity (presumably it means to do this via small cells), public wifi, electric vehicle charging, as well as public safety and environmental monitoring.

Technology and Decarbonisation Minister Jesse Norman said of this: “By turning lamp posts and other road infrastructure into smart devices such as public wifi points, the government are investing in the ways everyday transport infrastructure can be transformed for a greener, cleaner future. This programme will boost connectivity across the country and increase electric vehicle charging access, helping us to reach our net zero goals.”

Finally, a ‘Memorandum of Understanding on telecoms diversification’ has been signed with Australia. This is designed to ‘strengthen cooperation on telecoms diversification, particularly the development of open and interoperable solutions such as open RAN,’ we’re told

It’s certainly a mixed bag of announcements. Without any more detail offered on the MoU, it’s not clear to see what form that collaboration might take, especially since neither country could be described as world-beaters in the production of telecoms infrastructure hardware.

Rolling out satellites to hook up areas where it’s easier or more cost efficient to do so than terrestrial solutions sounds sensible enough however, and if the ‘smart lampposts’ concept essentially means small cell deployments, then the government is in synch with operator thinking on the matter.

There’s a lot of schemes, pilots, and pots of money going around in the UK telecoms space at the moment, and while it seems sometimes the government is constantly on the prowl for any opportunity to say something, anything, about telecoms in general and Open Ran specifically, if it helps telecoms firms find new business and and plugs up holes in the country’s connectivity, from an industry standpoint it’s positive news.


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