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Briefing emphasises street furniture role for 5G



King’s College team calls on the Government to take four steps to create a strong framework for deployment and innovation in new network


The Government has been urged to make better use of street furniture to encourage the deployment of 5G networks, in a new policy briefing from researchers at the Policy Institute, King’s College London.

Titled How government can drive 5G innovation, it highlights the effort as one of four strategic actions that the Government should take to use the technology in giving the UK an economic edge.

“Unless we take action now to maintain and build on this leadership, our potential competitive advantage may be quickly eroded by a series of infrastructure and policy barriers,” it says.

The briefing highlights the importance of street furniture, notably the UK’s 5 million plus streetlamps, as a key infrastructure asset. These and other structures are suitable for siting network equipment and help to provide line-of-sight connections and large-scale area coverage.

It warns, however, that the deployment is currently patchy with few wide partnerships and a limited focus on scaling up pilot projects of identifying opportunities for larger deployments.

As a response, it says the Government should give the Infrastructure and Projects Authority (IPA) policy ownership of public street furniture and local authorities and other owners are suitably compensated.

It should also create a policy framework for 5G stakeholders to access street furniture, making it as simple as possible for operators to deploy the infrastructure in an economically viable way. The report suggests street furniture could be managed similarly to how radio spectrum is offered at national scale today.

Professor Mark Kleinman, director of analysis at the Policy Institute and one of the report’s authors, commented: “Better use of street furniture is crucial for 5G network deployment. Government must make it as simple as possible, with a national framework and a clear process for all stakeholders.”

Fibre priorities

The report also urges the Government to prioritise the efficient usage of public and private digital infrastructure. This would involve making the deployment of fibre connections a priority in all construction projects, and encouraging public bodies to share fibre networks. In particular, it points to the potential of the Janet network for higher education and research.

The other recommendations are to develop a more nuanced spectrum policy to encourage innovation with 5G, and to establish a national approach to building the skills relevant to the technology. To this end, 5G software skills should be at the heart of university computer science and engineering curriculums, and there should be a national innovation and acceleration platform run by a university or similar body.

“This work must be done now,” the report says. “The UK is currently a global leader in 5G, however in such a fast moving landscape this advantage could be lost quickly.”

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