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Spring Budget 2017: Chancellor announces new investment in 5G and fibre broadband

Thursday, March 9th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Chancellor Philip Hammond has announced fresh investment in the rollout of fibre broadband and 5G mobile technology.

Delivering his first Spring Budget yesterday, Mr Hammond said investment in infrastructure would help close the productivity gap between the UK and other G7 countries.

He said that would be achieved via the £23bn National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) announced in the 2016 Autumn Statement.

Yesterday Mr Hammond committed £16m to “a new 5G mobile technology hub and £200m for local projects to leverage private sector investment in full-fibre broadband networks”.

The first phase of the government’s new 5G strategy will see the development of a National 5G Innovation Network to trial and demonstrate 5G applications.

A new “cutting edge” 5G facility, overseen by a “centre of 5G expertise within government”, will run the trials alongside existing 5G research institutions.

The government will also look at commercial options for improving coverage on roads and railways, and work with Ofcom to create a suitable regulatory environment for 5G.

The £200m allocated to what the government calls “full-fibre broadband networks” will fund local projects testing different ways of accelerating fibre rollouts.

These include bringing public sector customers together in order to increase demand, offering fibre broadband vouchers to businesses and opening up existing ducts so fibre can be laid more cheaply.

The option of directly connecting public sector buildings like schools and hospitals, so fibre will be closer to surrounding homes and businesses, will also be explored.

'5G cannot transform what it doesn't cover'

In all, the NPIF will invest £740m in digital infrastructure by 2020/21, with the government also set to launch its Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund by spring 2017.

Andrew Ellis, professor of optical communications at Aston University, said people with poor mobile and broadband coverage, such as those in rural areas, should be the first to benefit.

“Given the great disparities in internet provision across the UK, future government intervention should focus on the less profitable, and therefore under serviced areas – perhaps leapfrogging 4G and G.Fast in some areas and going straight to 5G and fibre-based broadband technologies.”

Will Stewart, vice president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, said the government’s recognition of the need for regulatory modernisation is vital. “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.”

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