As part of the National Productivity Investment Fund that was announced in the 2016 Autumn Budget, the competition hopes to find ways to boost the UK’s digital scene through 5G technology and full-fibre broadband.
Open from 23 October 2017 to 13 December 2017, the government makes note that any companies applying should be from the UK, carry out said project in the UK and work in collaboration with others.
“To stay competitive we must be at the cutting edge of new technology and we are determined to be one of the first countries in the world to use 5G,” the minister for digital, Matt Hancock, said of the competition.
“In these early stages we want all ideas, from all parts of the country, that will help us get the technology and the roll-out right for a nationwide network of 5G innovators. It’s part of our plan to make Britain the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.”
The extra focus on 5G has not gone without praise, with many lauding the government for trying to future-proof the country’s connectivity infrastructure, as well as support the growth of Britain’s GDP.
However, a few issues need to be addressed for the competition’s approved projects to make a real difference.
As William Newton, president and EMEA MD at WiredScore, explained: “With the 5G for Europe Action Plan driving most of the planning and regulation for the EU, Brexit has posed a significant risk to the UK’s ability to achieve its original vision of being a global leader. When the UK retires from the EU table, it will need to ensure it doesn’t fall behind on 5G planning and innovation if it wants to meet its goal.
“The £25m set aside to be invested in a competition for ideas around how the technology can boost the economy, ensures the government continues to stimulate industry outcome-driven innovation within this field. Whether this will be enough to keep the UK competitive is yet to be seen.”
Andrew Ferguson, editor of thinkbroadband.com, brings two different questions to the table: won’t rural businesses suffer just as much under new projects and ideas if the connectivity situation isn’t taken care of? Secondly, wouldn’t it also help to alter 4G, for example, now instead of waiting years to receive any benefits?
“5G has an increasing number of hopes and ambitions being pinned to it,” he said. But his main concern is that 4G is bearing down on companies now, while we wait to 2020 to reap the 5G benefits – “the cutting edge 5G testing with multi Gigabit speeds that makes the headlines is still a years from the reality of production lines.”
Ferguson added: “For the public, while 4G coverage is improving and we are seeing people using it more as a replacement for fixed line broadband, a lot more needs to be done to improve the levels of 4G coverage and reliability of the network in the busiest areas.
“5G is going to help, but a lot of the rural coverage that 5G is likely to bring will have the lowest data rates from the technology and not the Gigabit speeds of the headlines, so while the Internet of Things will be better connected the higher speed activities of video streaming will probably still be a problem for those who currently cannot get 4G.”
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