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UK telcos all for government's 5G backing

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Telecoms players from across the UK have welcomed a reported £740 million funding boost to help the rollout of 5G and increase fibre broadband coverage across the country.

The British Chancellor's Autumn Statement is due to be delivered tomorrow, but details have already trickled out in the usual pre-speech briefings.

Today was the turn of the telecoms sector. While the bulk of the announcement was devoted to fibre, courtesy of a £400 million tranche of money for a new Digital Infrastructure Fund, a further £740 million has been earmarked for the development of 5G and further rollout of fibre.

However, no details beyond the headline figure are known as this stage, including what chunk of the £740 million will be devoted to 5G.

The UK, like the rest of Europe, has been trailing behind ambitious plans within the United States and Asia to implement 5G before or close to its expected 2020 launch date.

[Read more: 5G to be a niche play in Europe during early 2020s, claims Ericsson]

The UK government's National Infrastructure Commission launched a consultation in May to explore the use cases, infrastructure requirements and regulatory challenges facing 5G. The findings of the consultation are still to be published.

In an interview with Mobile Europe last month, EE said the effective rollout of 5G was critical to retain its technological credibility.

Reacting to the proposals, Antony Walker, Deputy CEO of techUK, which represents hundreds of tech companies across the UK, said the announcements amounted to "a start". He said: "The full costs of deploying these new networks across the UK will be many times greater than the £1bn announced today. Public funding therefore needs to be targeted carefully. We believe the bulk of the investment required should come from the private sector.

"To unlock that investment we need Government and Ofcom to work with the industry to set out a wider long-term strategy for telecoms. That strategy needs to focus on what more Government and local Government can do to drive down infrastructure deployment costs. It also needs to set out a regulatory approach that recognises the need to attract long-term private investment from around the world.”

Other UK-based research programmes include the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey.

Also responding to this morning's news, Dr Li-Ke Huang, ‎Research & Technology Director at Cobham Wireless, added: “For the UK’s digital economy to benefit from the technology, it will require innovations and breakthroughs – not only in the traditional wireless technology domain, but also in the overall system design methods and principles used.

“The UK must move now to put in place large scale intelligent network infrastructure testing solutions, to ensure successful 5G development as early as possible. The 5G innovation centre at the University of Surrey is actively involved in testing the performance of 5G, but we need continual investment in new solutions to support 5G development, looking at chipset and radios, and end-to-end network performance.”

Fibre players also welcomed the funding announcement, with the technology a key enabler of future 5G networks.

Greg Mesch CEO of CityFibre said he was pleased more was being done to stimulate the rollout of fibre and introduction of 5G across the UK. He said: "Britain’s industrial strategy needs a digital backbone, and it is essential that we move quickly to plug the UK’s ‘fibre gap’ and empower our service-based economy.

"This new funding, stimulating competitive fibre rollout at scale by new communications infrastructure builders, is a catalyst for the delivery of the UK’s fibre future.”