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Government hands out £25m to six 5G testbeds across the UK

The government has awarded a total of £25m to six 5G projects aimed at accelerating the rollout of the cellular network technology.

The 5G testbeds focus on the corporate and industrial applications of the technology and range from smart farming with drones and healthcare in the home to self-driving cars and manufacturing. Two of the projects are also aimed at boosting connectivity in rural communities.

Cisco has been awarded £4.3m to bring 5G to the Orkney Islands, Shropshire and Somerset, while Quickline Communications has secured £2.1m to provide 5G connections in Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Monmouthshire.

Margot James, the minister for digital and the creative industries, said the funding formed part of plans to develop a digital economy that “works for everyone”: “[The projects] will help to unlock 5G and ensure the benefits of this new technology are felt across the economy and wider society.”

Scot Gardner, CEO of Cisco UK & Ireland, said 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,” he added. “5G RuralFirst looks to do just that.”

Last month, Ofcom gave six companies the greenlight to take part in its upcoming 5G mobile spectrum auction. In addition to the UK’s existing operators – EE, Vodafone, Three and O2, two further firms have been granted permission to bid in the auction.

One of those companies, Airspan Spectrum Holdings Limited, is backed by Japanese telecoms giant SoftBank, the Telegraph reported. The sixth firm is Connexin Limited, a wireless internet provider operating in the Hull region.

Ofcom said the auction process would start in late March.

The six government-funded 5G testbeds are:

5G Rural First: Cisco and the University of Strathclyde have joined forces to deliver testbeds and trials to exploit 5G benefits for rural communities and industries including agriculture.

5G Smart Tourism: The West of England Combined Authority will team up with the BBC and Aardman to provide augmented and virtual reality experiences to tourists in Bath and Bristol.

Worcestershire 5G Consortium: A group of organisations including Worcestershire County Council, Huawei, BT and O2 are looking to use 5G supported robotics, big data analytics and AR to boost industrial productivity.

Liverpool 5G Testbed: Sensor City is leading a consortium including the NHS, academics, local SMEs and an unidentified 5G vendor to deliver low-cost 5G networks, AI, VR and IoT to deprived communities across the city.

AutoAir: 5G Testbed for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: Airspan, the SoftBank-backed firm bidding for a piece of the 5G spectrum in Ofcom’s auction, the trial will test the cellular network on connected and autonomous vehicles.

5G Rural Integrated Testbed: Quickline Communications is trialling 5G across several rural locations to assess the benefits for smart agriculture, tourism and connectivity in poorly-served communities.