A year after launching its Digital Strategy, the UK government has picked six 5G projects to receive a share of a £25 million pot of public money.
The winning projects seem to be mainly public/private partnerships that have come up with bright ideas for testing potential applications of 5G whenever we get around to rolling out the infrastructure. This hand-out is part of a general cunning plan for boosting the general 5G effort in the UK, which seems to be as much political virtue-signalling as it is constructive action.
£25 million is a fairly token amount in the great scheme of things, for the government to be crowing about, but then again it is better than nothing. It keeps banging on about a £1 billion total commitment from the Digital Strategy but if they’ve only doshed out 2.5% of that a year down the line then, at this rate, it will take 40 years to complete.
“One year on from the Digital Strategy, we are delivering on our commitments to create a Britain fit for the future, with a thriving digital economy that works for everyone,” said Margot James, Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries. “The ground-breaking projects announced today will help to unlock 5G and ensure the benefits of this new technology are felt across the economy and wider society.”
The release goes on to list all the awesome things the UK government is doing to make sure the country is a little bit better at 5G than it would otherwise have been. Here are some highlights:
- Delivered more than 2.5 million free digital skills training opportunities with industry as part of the Digital Skills Partnership, with almost half a million new pledges made;
- Reached its target for 95% of premises to have access to superfast broadband by the end of 2017;
- Confirmed a £21m investment in Tech Nation to establish regional hubs throughout the country, widening access to Tech City’s training, mentoring and development programmes;
- Announced £84m to boost the skills of 8,000 computer science teachers to make sure every secondary school has a qualified computer science teacher by 2022.
- Introduced and updated the 5G strategy to deliver high quality coverage where people live, work and travel including setting out actions to ensure that mainline rail routes, major roads and connectivity ‘hotspots’ are 5G-ready.
Don’t get us wrong, there are many worthwhile initiatives here, although it’s rather alarming that we’re still so far short of having even one computer science teacher per school. But it’s also easy to fell sceptical when the government appears to make such a big effort to claim responsibility for things in which it seems to have had a minimal role.
Also, as you can see below, the winning projects only seem to have had £23.8 million allocated to them. Where’s the other £1.2 mil, and if it’s looking for a home maybe the government can invest it in much-needed telecoms trade journalism. Now that really would make a difference. Anyway, here are the six winners.
5G RuralFirst: Rural Coverage and Dynamic Spectrum Access Testbed and Trial
Lead organisation: Cisco; Grant: £4.3m
Cisco and lead partner University of Strathclyde will deliver testbeds and trials to exploit 5G benefits for rural communities and industries like agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities, to address the challenges of and build the business case for 5G rural deployment.
5G Smart Tourism
Lead organisation: West of England Combined Authority; Grant: £5.0m
This testbed will focus on delivering enhanced visual experiences for tourists using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology in major attractions in Bath and Bristol, including the Roman Baths and Millennium Square. Content and technology developments will be provided by the BBC and Aardman with support from the University of Bristol’s Smart Internet Lab. It will demonstrate self-provision of 5G and Wi-Fi and innovative mmWave backhaul, and will also address safety issues by providing emergency service capacity through network splicing.
Worcestershire 5G Consortium – Testbed and Trials
Lead organisation: Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership; Grant: £4.8m
It will focus on ways to increase industrial productivity through preventative and assisted maintenance using robotics, big data analytics and AR over 5G. It will also have a cyber security aspect, with QinetiQ providing assurances on the ‘security by design’ of 5G and IoT technology. Entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to test 5G capabilities in a new commercial tech accelerator located at the Malvern Hills Science Park.
Liverpool 5G Testbed
Lead organisation: Sensor City; Grant: £3.5m
Funded for one year in the first instance, the project will see high value technologies including low-cost open source 5G networks, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and IoT deployed across deprived communities in the Liverpool City Region test bed. The consortium will use this technology to reduce the digital divide, while measuring the impact on patient monitoring and support, management of loneliness in older adults, aid to independents living in the home and the facilitation of communication between hospitals and the community.
AutoAir: 5G Testbed for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles
Lead organisation: Airspan Communications; Grant: £4.1m
AutoAir will aim to make 5G technologies available for the validation and development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) at the UK’s premiere vehicle proving ground at Millbrook. Fast travel speeds complicate cell-tower handoff, and autonomous vehicles will require more network bandwidth than is available currently. It will also investigate how these 5G connectivity solutions could be transferable to both road and rail transportation.
The project is based on the accelerated development of 5G small cells operating in both licensed Sub 6 GHz and mmWave bands on a shared ‘neutral host’ platform which allows multiple public and private 5G operators to simultaneously use the same infrastructure using network slicing.
5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT)
Lead organisation: Quickline Communications; Grant: £2.1m
The aim is to ultimately make high quality connectivity available across Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Monmouthshire. Here the consortium will develop 5G-ready AR apps for tourists and investigate how high-bandwidth wireless connectivity can increase food production in farming, including through use of AR and an unmanned aerial system.