UK 5G potential could be unfulfilled due to investment gap

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The UK risks failing to harness the full benefits of 5G networks without further investment, according to a new report from the government’s own advisory board.

The Digital Connectivity Forum says the total amount that can be invested by industry on new network infrastructure between now and 2030 is £9 billion – leaving a shortfall of up to £25 billion.

While outdoor population coverage is now in excess of 50%, the report says additional funding and support will be required to deliver the most revolutionary 5G applications, including autonomous vehicles, automated logistics and telemedicine.

UK 5G rollout

The Conservative government has made fibre and 5G networks one of its priorities in recent years, with previous administrations believing more advanced connectivity can deliver economic growth and societal benefits in all parts of the country.

However, its ban on the use of Huawei telco equipment back in 2020 is believed to have delayed the rollout of 5G by up to three years.

New Prime Minister Liz Truss mentioned broadband twice in her first speech as the leader earlier this week, suggesting that connectivity would be a key pillar of her policies.

The government has provided funding for 5G trials and testbeds, but the report warns that in addition to direct financial contributions, the government needs to step up with further regulatory and structural reform to help close the investment gap.

“5G isn’t just faster 4G – it has the ability to unlock innovative new uses and technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to advanced remote medical services,” said Alex Maher, head of the Digital Connectivity Forum.

“These technologies have the potential not only to increase the productivity of the nation and boost UK competitiveness, but also to improve the quality of services that the Government provides.

“Our research finds that there is a real risk of these revolutionary benefits not being realised. To make a reality of the Government’s levelling up agenda, to boost productivity, growth and competitiveness requires action. We therefore encourage the Government and industry to work together to ensure that intensive and timely investment is delivered.”

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.