On the first anniversary of its Digital Strategy, the UK’s government has announced this weekend the winners of a £25 million competition to pave the way for a future rollout of 5G technology in the UK.
From the Orkney Islands to the West of England, the six projects led by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), universities and local authorities represent the best of UK innovation, resources and expertise.
They will test 5G across a range of applications, including smart farming with drones, using the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) to improve healthcare in the home, increasing manufacturing productivity and maximising the future benefits of self-driving cars.
They are part of a £1 billion commitment through the Digital Strategy to keep Britain at the forefront of connectivity by accelerating the deployment of next generation digital infrastructure and driving forward new 5G business opportunities.
Margot James, Minister of State for Digital and the Creative Industries, declares: “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. 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.”
Each testbed will receive between £2 million and £5 million in government grants, as part of a total investment of £41m from private sector and other public sector funding, to explore new ‘fifth generation’ mobile communications technologies that use high frequency spectrum to deliver internet speeds of over a gigabit per second.
Professor Rahim Tafazolli, Founder and Director of 5GIC and leader of 5GUK Networks says: “The 5G Innovation Centre is extremely pleased and proud to have been able to play a leading part in in supporting the DCMS UK 5G testbeds and trials programme. 5G represents a fundamental transformation of the role that mobile technology plays in society, delivering rich new services in sectors such as finance, transport, retail and health. It will drive trillions of dollars of additional activity through the world digital economy and the DCMS programme will ensure that the UK stays at the forefront of this exciting global race.”
The Digital Strategy launched in March 2017 to continually drive the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and invest in industries, infrastructure and skills. Infrastructure is also one of the key foundations of our modern Industrial Strategy, and both seek to create the conditions for the UK’s digital economy to thrive; through overcoming barriers to growth and promoting more high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future.
A year later, there are nearly 60,000 tech businesses in the UK, we remain the number one location for tech investment in Europe and have cemented our position as a leader in some of the most innovative and strategically important digital sectors.
In particular, the UK’s fintech sector is larger than New York’s or the combined fintech workforce of Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. Healthtech, accelerated by needs of the NHS, is also now a thriving digital sector in the UK.
Delivering on its commitments to future-proof the economy through the Digital Strategy, in the last twelve months alone the Government has:
- 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;
- Committed £75 million investment to take forward key recommendations in the independent review of AI, including a new Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation;
- Announced the creation of new AI fellowships and funding for 450 PhD researchers to secure the UK’s leading position in the global AI market;
- 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.
- Announced a plan to unlock over £20 billion of patient capital investment in innovative firms by doubling the annual allowance of the Enterprise Investment Scheme and the Venture Capital Trust scheme;
- Supported and funded the Tech Talent Charter, an industry-led initiative committing over 170 industry signatories to diversity in tech;
- Supported the creation of a fantastic environment for early stage tech businesses – there are more than 200 incubators and 160 accelerator programmes located across the UK offering a mix of funding, mentoring and training;
- 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.
The Digital Strategy also focuses on building and maintaining public confidence in the use of data by businesses, while ensuring the power of data can be unlocked for innovation.
Many organisations still need to act to make sure the personal data they hold is secure and they are prepared for the Data Protection Bill, which will become law on 25 May. It will give UK citizens more control over use of their data, and provide new rights to move or delete personal data.
A new campaign, led by the Information Commissioner’s Office, will prepare SMEs to be compliant with these updated laws for the digital age. It will encourage businesses to access the wealth of free help and guidance available from the ICO.
The Strategy also reflects the Government’s ambition to make the internet safer for children by requiring age verification for access to commercial pornographic websites in the UK. In February, the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) was formally designated as the age verification regulator.
Our priority is to make the internet safer for children and we believe this is best achieved by taking time to get the implementation of the policy right. We will therefore allow time for the BBFC as regulator to undertake a public consultation on its draft guidance which will be launched later this month. For the public and the industry to prepare for and comply with age verification, the Government will also ensure a period of up to three months after the BBFC guidance has been cleared by Parliament before the law comes into force. It is anticipated age verification will be enforceable by the end of the year.