5G represents the next generation in mobile technology. While 2G enabled basic mobile communication and 3G introduced access to the internet and email from the palm of our hands, 4G went further by ushering in a new digital economy.
Now is the turn of 5G. While 5G continues the trajectory of dramatically increased speed, there is much more to it. Its properties allow for richer and more data-intensive connectivity between devices.
There won’t be a ‘Big Bang’ moment for 5G. The first phase, later this year, will see the launch of 5G broadband services for consumers and business customers. Over time, 5G will lay the foundation for smarter and more efficient cities and industries, such as interconnected traffic lights and autonomous vehicles, factories where production lines adjust to demand in real time, and immersive experiences that bring classrooms and stadiums into our living rooms.
New infrastructure required to prepare for 5G
Unlocking its potential at this scale will require extensive and secure digital infrastructure, new commercial business models, and closer collaboration between government, operators and industry to develop 5G use-cases and services. Developing a 5G network is a significant undertaking that requires considerable investment. There are over 30,000 mobile cell sites in the UK and many of these will need to be upgraded to deliver 5G, alongside thousands of new sites likely to be required.
Our commitment to making use of public buildings for hosting digital infrastructure will help ensure that 5G networks are widely available. We also recognise that a next generation network requires up-to-date planning regulation, keeping pace with advances in technology, so we are keeping planning regulations under review and continue to work with industry to promote understanding and take-up of the existing wide range of planning reforms.
The arrival of 5G also requires greater bandwidth from the underlying broadband network. So Ofcom are making it cheaper for operators to lay fibre by opening up access to existing duct and pole networks. And the UK is also releasing additional spectrum to support the demand for new 5G services.
Testing and regulation needed to ensure 5G security
Finally, given the potential role of 5G across a number of sectors, it is essential that robust measures are in place to ensure that our 5G networks are secure. That is why the UK has undertaken a comprehensive, evidenced-based review of its telecoms supply chain in order to assure the security and resilience of our networks.
All of this work is critical in laying the foundations for 5G, but it is the way the network is used that will set 5G apart. DCMS’s £200-million 5G Testbeds and Trials (5GTT) Programme is helping to stimulate new 5G use-cases and accelerate adoption in key sectors. Phase 1 brought together 72 organisations across six projects in sectors including healthcare, transport, agriculture, tourism and logistics.
One example is the Liverpool-based health and social care testbed. Smart sensors that can detect falls and monitor medication are being trialled to improve the quality of care for some of the most vulnerable members of society.
UK will be among the first to implement 5G
The next phase of the 5GTT Programme is our major collaboration with the West Midlands (WM5G). In this trial, we will see patients diagnosed by teams of doctors in virtual cross-site consulting rooms, and whether connected vehicles improve traffic flow. These examples demonstrate how 5G can transform the way we engage with public services and spaces in our day-to-day lives.
Just as valuable are opportunities to boost the productivity and competitiveness of our businesses and industries. 5G could underpin their digital transformation – and so we will soon be seeking to fund sector-specific projects, focused on industrial use-cases in manufacturing and logistics.
Our work to date gives me confidence that the UK is well placed to be among the first wave of countries to adopt and demonstrate the potential of 5G. As the first services for consumers go live in the coming months, it is crucial that operators and business leaders step up their collaboration to reap the full benefits of 5G.