The 5G arms race: the UK’s strategy to become a global leader in 5G technology

By Steven McGinty

On 8 March, the UK Government published their strategy for developing 5G – the next generation of wireless communication technologies.

Released on the same day as the Spring Budget, the strategy builds on the government’s Digital Strategy and Industrial Strategy, and sets out the government’s ambition to become a global leader in 5G.

Accelerating the deployment of 5G networks, maximising the productivity and efficiency benefits to the UK from 5G, creating new opportunities for UK businesses, and encouraging inward investment, are the strategy’s main objectives.

If the UK makes progress in these areas, the strategy argues, 5G infrastructure has the potential to become an enabler of smart city technologies, such as autonomous vehicles and advanced manufacturing, and to support the expansion of the Internet of Things – the interconnection of people, places, and everyday objects.

5G Innovation Network

Although the strategy highlights the enormous potential of 5G, it makes clear that 5G technologies are still in development, and that the majority of funding will need to come from the private sector.

To support the growth of a commercial market, the strategy explains, a new 5G trials and testbed programme will be introduced – through a national 5G Innovation Network – to coordinate the development of 5G services and applications. This programme will help government and private sector partners understand the economics of deploying 5G networks, ensuring that technologies can he delivered in a cost-effective way, and enabling best practice to be captured and knowledge disseminated.

The government is investing an initial £16m into the programme (involving partners such as UK Research and Innovation and the Government Digital Service), and has targeted a trial of end-to-end 5G (high speed connectivity without the need for intermediary services) by 2018. In February, Ericsson announced that they had a successful end-to-end 5G trial in Sweden, alongside partners SK Telecom Korea.

Improving regulations

To support the development of 5G, the strategy suggests that there may need to be regulatory changes, particularly in the planning system. As such, the government has committed to reviewing current regulations before the end of 2017, and then to conduct regular reviews, as partners learn more from their 5G trials.

Local connectivity plans

The strategy highlights the important role local regions play in the deployment of mobile technologies, and explains that the government will be consulting with councils on how planning policies can be used to provide high quality digital infrastructure.

However, it also suggests that there may be a case for introducing ‘local connectivity plans’, which would outline how local areas intend to meet their digital connectivity needs. Interestingly, the strategy highlights that evidence, such as local plans, may be taken into account when the government is making funding decisions for local infrastructure projects.

Coverage and capacity, infrastructure sharing, and spectrum

The strategy accepts that the move towards 5G won’t be as straightforward as the move from 3G to 4G. Instead, 5G technology will be developed alongside the expansion of the 4G network.

In addition, the government has accepted the recommendations of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC)’s ‘Connected Future’ report, which states that unnecessary barriers to infrastructure sharing between telecommunications companies must be tackled. The strategy states that it will explore options for providing a clearer and more robust framework for sharing.

Increasing the available radio spectrum was also highlighted as key to developing 5G technology. The strategy notes that the government will work with Ofcom to review the spectrum licensing regime to help facilitate the development of 4G and 5G networks.

5G strategy’s reception

Natalie Trainor, technology projects expert at law firm Pinsent Masons, has welcomed the new 5G strategy, explaining that:

“…technology and major infrastructure projects will become much more interlinked in future and that the plans outlined can help the UK take forward the opportunities this will present.”

In particular, Ms Trainor sees the establishment of the Digital Infrastructure Officials Group – which will bring together senior staff from across departments – as a way of providing greater awareness and co-ordination of major public projects that involve digital infrastructure. Ms Trainor also hopes that the new group will encourage the Department for Transport and the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) to work with industry to develop digital connectivity on the UK’s road and rail networks.

Professor Will Stewart, Vice President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, similarly welcomes the new strategy but highlights that the funding announced will ‘not come anywhere close’ to the investment required to deliver 5G across the UK. In addition, he also makes it clear that coverage and regulatory change will be vital, stating that:

The biggest challenge for government will be improving coverage for all, as 5G cannot transform what it doesn’t cover. And achieving universal coverage for the UK, outside high-capacity urban areas, will not be affordable or achievable without regulatory change.”

Former Ofcom director and author of The 5G Myth, Professor William Webb, has also applauded the government’s plans, even though he is an outspoken critic of the 5G industry. For Professor Webb, the strategy recognises that we are in the early stages of 5G technology, and that there is still a need to develop 4G networks.

Final thoughts

5G technology provides the UK with the opportunity to become a genuinely smart society. Yet, as the strategy acknowledges, 5G is still in its infancy and the idea of a 5G network across the UK is a long way down the road.

The new 5G strategy includes a number of positive steps, such as listening to the recommendations of the NIC report, and exploring the realities of deploying 5G networks. This cautious approach is unlikely to show any significant progress in the short term, but does provide a focal point for academia, government, and industry to rally around.


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A ‘can do’ culture? Planning reforms in Wales

Flag of Wales in the windDevolution in the UK has seen the development and continued divergence of public policy and governance arrangements. The land-use planning system is just one area where devolution has been seen as an opportunity to devise more appropriate arrangements to tackle specific issues.

In a recent article in Scottish Planning & Environmental Law, Professor Greg Lloyd (Emeritus Professor of Urban Planning at the University of Ulster) considered recent moves by the Welsh government to reform and modernise the planning system.

As the political landscape of devolution has matured, the modernisation of planning has taken place within the context of wider reforms. In Scotland, for example, the National Performance Framework and the community empowerment agenda have added new dimensions to local governance and planning. Wales is also engaging in creating a new context to land-use planning and effectively repositioning planning.

A series of reviews (including the Welsh Assembly’s Legislative Statement 2011-2016; the inquiry into the planning system by the Sustainability Committee of the National Assembly in 2010-2011; and the Simpson Review in 2011) laid the foundations for further change.

In summer 2014, the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Bill was introduced which will place a duty on public bodies to make decisions that leave a positive legacy for future generations. Professor Lloyd highlights that this “adds an explicit intergenerational articulation of what is considered to be sustainable development practice. The context to planning in Wales is being changed significantly and dramatically”.

This was followed in October 2014, by the introduction of the Planning (Wales) Bill 2014. At the time, the Minister for Natural Resources – responsible for land-use planning – said “I look forward to seeing these reforms, coupled with a “can do” culture across the planning sector, providing a system which can make a positive and lasting impact on our communities.”

The Bill seeks to provide a modern delivery framework for the preparation of development plans and planning decisions, including allowing Welsh Ministers to decide a limited number of planning applications in defined circumstances.

It also aims to strengthen the plan-led approach to decisions on planning applications by providing a legal framework for the preparation of a National Development Framework and Strategic Development Plans.

Improving collaboration and engagement with communities are other key objectives.

Professor Lloyd argues that while the rhetoric of reform and modernisation of the planning system is familiar, there is a real sense of purpose about the drivers of change.

“Could it be that planning in Wales is rediscovering an explicit ambition for planning to serve the public interest – both for the present and the future? There are lots of lessons from elsewhere in the Celtic fringe.”

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This blog draws on the article by Professor Greg Lloyd, “A can do culture? Planning reforms in Wales”, Scottish Planning & Environmental Law 166, December 2014, pp123-124

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Scotland’s Best Place

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© Copyright Gordon Czeschel and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

by Heather Cameron

Dundee waterfront has been voted as the winner of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) Scotland’s Best Places initiative, beating Loch Lomond and the West Highland Way to the title of ‘best place’ in Scotland.

The competition, part of the RTPI’s 2014 Centenary celebrations and backed by Barton Willmore and the Scottish Government, aimed to find places across Scotland which have been improved by planners, planning and the planning system since 1914. Chair of the initiative’s Expert Panel, Alistair MacDonald, commented in a recent article in Scottish Planner that ‘it has showcased places that have been conserved or that have been built from scratch or close to nothing’. Continue reading

Community engagement in development planning: an ongoing challenge

Category Picture Community Developmentby Morwen Johnson

“People should be at the heart of the planning system because planning is a system to improve the quality of everyday lives” (ODPM, 2005)

The importance of engaging the wider community when making decisions about the development of land or infrastructure has long been recognised. Within the devolved nations and England, planning legislation includes a requirement for engagement, both at the level of strategic planning and local/neighbourhood planning. How to make any engagement ‘meaningful’ rather than a tick-box exercise continues to be a challenge, however.

Our latest briefing looks at some of the lessons on good practice in community engagement. This includes engaging ‘hard to reach’ groups and some tools that are often used within the planning system.

Some of the consistent messages that emerge from the literature are:

  • Community engagement must happen at an early stage in the process, so people can genuinely influence decisions and the shape of later discussions.
  • While community engagement activity is important, it should also be proportionate to the scale of proposals and the potential impact on the area.
  • The ‘community’ is not homogeneous – it comprises both geographical communities and multiple communities of interest.

 To find out more, read our full briefing which can be requested from this page.