UK unveils £500m investment plans for AI, 5G and full-fibre deployments

UK telecoms firms have welcomed government plans to invest £500 million in future tech including 5G and full fibre deployments, but warned more investment will be needed for the country to keep pace with other countries.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced plans to invest £500 million in “a range of initiatives from artificial intelligence (AI), to 5G, and full fibre” during his budget announcement to the House of Commons.

It follows previous announcements from the government including a £200 million pledge for full fibre and 5G in March, and a £1.1 billion boost to digital infrastructure unveiled in the Autumn Statement in November 2016.

BT’s EE is expected to start trialling 5G services in London next year, with plans to launch initial services in 2019 and full deployments expected to begin in 2020.

O2 – Telefonica’s UK mobile arm – welcomed the announcement, with CEO Mark Evans calling for greater collaboration between operators, government and local authorities in order to quickly deploy the infrastructure, including robust backhaul networks, needed to support 5G.

“The Government’s investment in technology is welcomed and reflects the UK’s intent to become a world-leading digital economy,” Evans said. “Mobile connectivity is one of the UK’s most powerful opportunities to strengthen and grow our economy while also improving the lives of the British public. Our own research tells us that 5G will contribute an additional £7 billion to the UK economy each year by 2026.

 “However, to truly realise this ambition we need greater and urgent collaboration between operators, national and local government, enterprise and communities. We need a framework that facilitates the efficient and effective deployment of improved mobile networks which will deliver a better connected experience for everyone. Only then we will be able to become a world-leading digital economy.”

Netscout, which offers network transformation services, warned the amounts announced so far will require significant further investment in order to keep pace with countries such as Korea, Japan or the US.

John English, senior product manager for service providers at Netscout, said: “In the rush to discuss what shape next generation networks will take, the possible businesses cases, and technological opportunities, the practical realities of assuring quality service delivery and securing the network are invariably overlooked. 

“How will the British government know that they have realised the best value with their mobile network investment? How will their businesses and citizens be confident that their communications will be secure and that the privacy is protected? For 5G’s potential’s potential to be fully unlocked, it’s therefore not enough to know how the networks will be launched; we must also know how to manage and assure them once they are.”

Alastair Masson, head of telco media at NTT DATA, claimed that, with the UK's exit from the European Union looming, connectivity would play a key role in the UK's future economic strategy. This, he added, "will only be possible with a focus on 5G and the UK's network infrastructure".

“If the UK is to compete in a post-Brexit environment, a continued investment in 5G is critical," Masson added. "In today’s Budget, the Chancellor promised to make the UK a hub of enterprise and innovation and his commitment of £500 million towards technology initiatives will go some way toward making this a reality. 

"Not only will it drive productivity for businesses and consumers alike, 5G connectivity will enable driverless cars to become a reality on modern British roads and further transform the UK's infrastructure with more consistent Wi-Fi speeds and mobile signal across all parts of the country."

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