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Autumn Budget 2017: £500m pledged to further AI and 5G networks

3 min read

23 November 2017

Deputy Editor, Real Business

While chancellor Philip Hammond's Autumn Budget reiterated previous digital investments, he also committed additional funding to boost initiatives around artificial intelligence, 5G and full-fibre broadband.

“A new tech business is founded in Britain every hour,” Hammond said. “But I want that to be every half hour.” It was an endeavour, he admitted, that couldn’t be sustained without further investment in areas such as artificial intelligence and 5G.

The Spring Budget had already pledged £270m to disruptive technology that would change the UK economy. Vows to improve coverage for those commuting on trains and a £200m fund for local projects around full-fibre broadband were also made.

Early November saw £84m given by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to companies working with robotics and artificial intelligence. 

“We will now invest over £500m to further these initiatives,” Hammond exclaimed.

The bulk of this investment, at least in terms of 5G, will only likely come in the 2020s after the standards are defined. That’s according to Alastair Macpherson, telecoms partner in PwC’s strategy consulting business, Strategy&, who detailed that it will go a long way in improving economic productivity and performance.

“5G has the potential to deliver an enhanced mobile broadband experience, and even has the potential to compete with fixed broadband networks in the future,” Macpherson said. “It also offers increased reliability and the ability to support the growth of machine-to-machine connectivity, used in the likes of driverless cars and Internet of Things devices.”

Likewise, Paul Lee, head of telecommunications research at Deloitte, suggests 5G and fibre networks have grown necessary as 4G capacity is exhausted.

“We should not think about 5G as just another technology, but rather as a building block for digital transformation,” Lee explained. “Faster networks with more capacity are prerequisites for the government’s vision of a digital nation – it is the nervous system of the digital world.

“Over the next five years, the UK’s workforce will become transformed through mobile apps that make them more productive: the UK has the opportunity to lead across all forms of technology revolution. However, the best quality networks are essential in order to achieve this.

“Telecommunications connectivity is now just as important for the UK economy as transport infrastructure. Without it, the country would grind to a halt. Continued investment in new and exciting network technology is essential in order to keep the UK competitive in global markets and at the cutting edge of connectivity. World class connectivity is a foundation of a world class economy.”

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