The UK government last week launched a £40 million fund to spark local digital revolutions across the country in a bid to ‘unlock’ 5G and advanced wireless technologies. This is planned to aid in the acceleration of smarter and more connected communities to utilise the benefits.
Local and regional authorities can submit applications to secure a portion of the multi-million-pound fund. Potential applications ranging from futuristic farming to cutting-edge healthcare solutions, all made possible by IoT and 5G, connectivity, but we’re yet to see what bids have been accepted.
So what can we expect authorities bids to consist of? And how could this benefit the UK’s IoT and connectivity ambitions as a whole?
What kind of plans will the bids be on?
“The UK’s £40 million fund to boost digital connectivity is a significant step forward, as 5G offers higher performance and data rates compared to 4G,” Richard Gibbs, CEO at critical communication equipment provider, Filtronic told IoT Insider. “This step change in technology will revolutionise the way that businesses operate and change the way consumers access data by enabling a network of interconnected devices that will increase broadband coverage, maximise available bandwidth and greatly improve connectivity.”
As 5G becomes more common across the country, so does the proliferation of IoT devices to be connected. This can allow businesses to gather real-time data for improved inventory management, equipment monitoring, and process optimisation, aiding to local economies in which they reside.
“Equally, 5G satellites can provide Internet coverage to remote areas where laying cables is difficult or expensive, unlocking economic opportunities and delivering real-term benefits to those affected by the digital divide,” Gibbs concludes.
Currently, the UK lacks behind its continental competitors in terms of 5G coverage. In 2023 it was estimated only 77% of the UK has access to basic 5G services. Deutsche Telekom recently said its 5G network already reaches 94% of the overall population in Germany.
Paul Marshall, CCO and Co-founder of Eseye believes this coverage issue needs to be addressed with this funding: “The primary objective must be ensuring that local and regional authorities make the most out of the network, with close to 100% service availability for all their devices. By fostering a supportive environment for innovation and investing in cutting-edge technologies like 5G, we can pave the way for groundbreaking advancements and continued growth in the IoT industry.”
Dr William Webb, IEEE fellow, CTO Access Partnership and author of ‘The 5G Myth: When vision decoupled from reality’ explained to IoT Insider current examples of use of 5G funds. “For many years now, the UK Government has provided funds to develop 5G applications and use cases. Generally, these funds are spent on specific projects, such as remote monitoring of salmon farms, and they often show that technology can be used to deliver better ways of working.” Yet, Webb questions the wider application of the investment: “However, typically these projects do not lead to widespread adoption of new applications – often challenging business cases, poor availability of spectrum or lack of interest result in little gains.”
This concern over spectrum is due to the utilisation of millimetre-wave frequencies to achieve high speeds and low latency in 5G. While these frequencies enable impressive performance, they have limited range and are susceptible to obstacles, necessitating a denser deployment of infrastructure, leading to higher costs and complexities in ensuring consistent coverage. The potential sharing of spectrum bands between 5G, Wi-Fi, and other wireless systems could lead to interference and reduced performance for users.
Addressing the issues
These issues may go on to explain the lack of business use of 5G. As Martin Tidell, Sr Industry Consultant Telecommunications EMEA at Teradata told IoT Insider: “Despite the fact that the first generation of 5G (non stand alone) has now been available widely for a significant period of time, 5G monetization has not taken off. “Smart” everything – cities, ports, homes, health, agriculture – is nowhere close to its potential. Hence the new £40 million funding will be a welcome boost.”
Yet examining the initial fund, £40 million may not be enough to regional or local authorities to enact meaningful change. “We believe telecoms providers will play a central role in the partner ecosystem to maximise the benefits of local area initiatives for 5G innovation Regions,” explains Tidell. “An example where they can play a role for smaller businesses and communities is the VMO2 announcement last week of launching a portable 5G standalone private network.”
These sentiments of the fund acting as an olive branch to encourage telecom providers are echoed by Mark Jackson, Director and Industry Principal, Telecoms & Media, at Pegasystems. “It is inevitable that a whole ecosystem of partners will form to deliver these new solutions and, with the network provider at the heart of this it will be their role to orchestrate all of the workflows involved to seamlessly deliver, monitor and troubleshoot these innovative new products and services for the end customer,” Jackson explained to IoT Insider.
“Yet with the rollout of better connectivity demanding capital investments, this fund can help provide the additional firepower to transform and accelerate innovation in those sectors that need it the most, including public services, transport and advanced manufacturing,” concludes Jackson.