UK hands £25m to 5G testbeds as Ofcom confirms next week’s auction

The UK government and its bodies are upping 5G preparation by providing new testbed funds and confirming next week’s spectrum auction.

UK telecommunications regulator Ofcom has confirmed it will hold its next spectrum auction on Tuesday 20th March. Slices of 4G and 5G spectrum will be sold off to operators looking to expand their portfolios.

All the major mobile operators — EE/BT, O2, Vodafone, and Three — are confirmed as participants. Others include fixed wireless broadband provider Connexin, and relatively unknown player Airspan Spectrum Holdings.

Airspan Spectrum Holdings is quite a new player, but the firm recently bought a large chunk of Irish mobile spectrum. The company is the UK-based subsidiary of Airspan in the U.S and is backed by Japanese telecoms giant SoftBank — so it could be one to watch.

Due to its large existing holdings, EE is unable to bid on spectrum in the 2.3GHz band suited to 4G services. The operator is also limited to buying only 85MHz of spectrum in the 5G-friendly 3.4GHz band to ensure fairness to smaller competitors.

Scot Gardner, Chief Executive of Cisco UK & Ireland, said:

5G has huge interest, but now we have to make it real — not just for cities, but for everyone, including rural communities. It is fantastic to see the government investing in research and development that helps the UK to lead in such a crucial space.

Digital economies rely on connectivity so the UK can’t sit and wait. We need to be trialling now, understanding what 5G can do right across the UK.

Meanwhile, the government has provided 5G testbeds with a total of £25 million to advance their research.

There are six testbeds in total:

5G RuralFirst — Led by Cisco and lead partner University of Strathclyde, will deliver testbeds and trials to exploit 5G benefits for rural communities and industries.

5G Smart Tourism — This testbed will focus on delivering enhanced visual experiences for tourists using Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) technology in major attractions in Bath and Bristol.

Worcestershire 5G Consortium — This testbed will focus on ways to increase industrial productivity through preventative and assisted maintenance using robotics, big data analytics, and AR over 5G.

Liverpool 5G Testbed — Funded for one year in the first instance, the project will see high value technologies including low-cost open source 5G networks, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and IoT deployed across deprived communities in the Liverpool City Region test bed.

AutoAir: 5G Testbed for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles — AutoAir will aim to make 5G technologies available for the validation and development of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) at the UK’s premiere vehicle proving ground at Millbrook.

5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT) — 5GRIT will be trialling innovative use of 5G technology across a range of rural applications, such as smart agriculture, tourism, and connecting poorly-served communities.

Margot James, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries, said: “The ground-breaking projects announced today will help to unlock 5G and ensure the benefits of this new technology are felt across the economy and wider society.”

What are your thoughts on these latest 5G developments? Let us know in the comments.

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