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Public sector to contribute to fibre and 5G roll outs

09/03/17

Spring Budget points to plans for public authorities to support infrastructure and take part in development of next generation of mobile networks

The Government has emphasised the role of public authorities as part of a £200 million investment in encouraging the roll out of high speed broadband – and pointed towards their role in the development of 5G networks and applications.

Details of the Spring BudgetBinary numbers in fibre, published yesterday, include the provision of a fund for local projects to accelerate the market delivery of full-fibre networks.

Among the measures cited are to bring together local public sector customers to create sufficient demand to reduce the financial risk of building the networks.

There will also be steps to directly connect public sector buildings, such as schools and hospitals, which the document says will bring fibre closer to many homes and businesses; and to open up public sector assets such as existing ducts for the fibre to be laid more cheaply.

Another measure will be to offer full-fibre broadband connection vouchers to businesses to increase take-up of the new services.

These will come under the National Productivity Investment Fund, which is providing £23 billion between 2017-22 to upgrade the country’s economic infrastructure. This includes £740 million specifically for digital by 2021.

5G Strategy

Within this, the Budget also highlighted a new 5G Strategy aimed at making the UK a world leader in the nascent technology for mobile networks – the potential for which was highlighted in a recent UKAuthority interview with the Government’s chief technology adviser Liam Maxwell.

It includes a priority of making public sector spectrum available for 5G, subject to an assessment that it will clearly provide value for money.

This will be accompanied by the creation of a centre of expertise that will involve central and local government working with industry to ensure a strategic approach and share best practice. One of their tasks will be to identify a pipeline of potential projects for trials on a National 5G Innovation Network. Under the first phase it will receive an investment of up to £16 million.

The centre will also provide support for local government in developing local connectivity plans, partly through the creation of a joint working group.

The strategy says the public sector can become a major driver of 5G services through its joint purchasing power, and in making its assets available to support the installation of the necessary infrastructure.

The Government is also planning to develop commercial options for improving coverage on roads and rail, and to work with communications regulator Ofcom on ensuring the country has the right regulatory environment. These steps are part of its response to the National Infrastructure Commission’s Connected Future report.

The Strategy also spells out that the trials programme will involve working with the National Cyber Security Centre to ensure that 5G is developed in line with its priorities.

Qualified welcome

Publication of the strategy produced a mixed response from the Institution of Engineering and Technology. Its vice president, Professor Will Stewart, said: "The Budget investment in a 5G technology hub is welcome – as is the Government’s announcement today of a 5G strategy outlining an integrated approach to combining fibre and wireless networks to deliver 5G.

“But it’s important to stress that the 5G investment announced today will not come anywhere close to bridging the investment gap needed to deliver 5G across the UK - so the Government Strategy’s recognition that regulatory modernisation is needed to make the final bill of delivering 5G more affordable, for example by enabling operators to share networks, is pivotal. "

He warned that it will not be possible to fully deliver the infrastructure by 2020, but described it as "a journey" that would require long term cooperation between governments, regulators, operators, vendors and vertical industries.

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