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MPs call for action plan on critical emerging technologies

05/02/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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A parliamentary committee has said the Government needs to learn from the experience of the 5G roll out in the adoption of emerging technologies that could be critical to the national interest.

The Commons Science and Technology Committee makes the point in a new report on the lessons the implementation of 5G, which has been characterised by concerns over the role of Chinese firm Huawei and restrictions on its future contribution.

It has also led to a reliance for access equipment on two major suppliers, Nokia and Ericsson.

The report says that, to avoid similar situations arising in other technologies, the Government must act urgently to assess its potential dependence.

A first step should be the publication of an assessment of the risks of global technological divergence of standards, and an action plan for the UK, within 12 months. This would take the form of a white paper that identifies critical emerging technologies and possible dependencies on high risk vendors and lay out the proposed response.

Research and diversification

Further steps should involve a programme of research and development in relevant fields, a range of measures to diversify the market – such as the possible adoption of OpenRAN (open radio access networks) – and international co-operation on diversifying the telecommunications market.

Greg Clark

Greg Clark MP (pictured), chair of the committee, said: "A lack of strategic foresight in 5G has seen the UK become dependent on only two vendors for a crucial technology.

“We must learn from this experience to avoid making our economy and security vulnerable from a lack of acceptable alternatives in emerging technologies. AI and quantum technologies are just two examples of fields of development which can greatly advance the prospects for our economy and society but can pose potential threats.

"While the committee welcomes the Government's 5G diversification strategy, it has come too late and contains little by way of detail. The Government needs to take an activist approach to encouraging research and development, and must now co-operate internationally to build common regulatory approaches with like-minded nations.

"As technologies develop at an ever faster rate, more time must not be lost. In a white paper, the Government must urgently lay out a strategy for the most important technologies of the future to avoid repeating the supplier squeeze we have ended up with in 5G."

Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

 

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