DCMS Minister launches Wireless Infrastructure Strategy at Our Network Future

On Thursday 14 October, techUK welcomed Julia Lopez, Minister of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to Our Network Future, our first marquee telecoms summit. 

During her keynote address, the Minister announced DCMS plans to develop a Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, to set out a strategic framework for the development, deployment and adoption of 5G and future networks in the UK over the next decade. It will “articulate a clear vision for how advanced wireless infrastructure can become an integral part of the fabric of the UK's economy and society by 2030 and make a significant contribution to growth and prosperity”.

Further context on the Strategy is available in correspondence from DCMS to Ofcom, and Ofcom's response, as the regulator continues its work on a Spectrum Roadmap and Spectrum Management Strategy. 

In the accompanying call for evidence (details below), DCMS has shared its policy intention with the Strategy, and its vision for 2030 where “world-class digital infrastructure will be crucial to unlocking new opportunities for growth and prosperity, and delivering the government’s key objectives including levelling up, building back better, net zero and Global Britain.” 

Furthermore, the Strategy will: 

  • articulate a clear vision for how wireless infrastructure can become an integral part of the fabric of the UK’s economy by 2030 and make a significant contribution to the government’s growth and levelling up agendas 
  • anticipate the UK’s overall wireless connectivity needs for the next decade, assessing how these will be met 
  • establish a clear evidence base to determine what role the government should play in supporting investment in wireless infrastructure; and by doing so 
  • introduce a new policy framework to encourage innovation, competition and investment in 5G and future networks, including 6G 

The government intends to publish the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy in 2022. 

Public sector buildings aiding the rollout of next-generation fibre networks 

The Minister also shared an update that over 1000 schools across the UK can now access gigabit speed broadband, following public investment. The schools are primarily based in approximately 30% of the UK that currently cannot access speeds of 100 megabits per second and were not in line to receive an upgrade commercially from broadband companies (such as rural or hard-to-reach areas).  

The areas seeing the most schools upgraded include Norfolk (115), Wolverhampton (81), North Yorkshire (45), the Highlands (37) and Dumfries and Galloway (35). 

Further work is underway to connect more schools, and around 6,800 public buildings across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by the end of March 2022 - including hospitals, GP surgeries, fire stations, leisure centres, museums and libraries. 

Exploring the role of SMEs in the UK’s telecoms market 

As well as updates on fixed network rollout progress, the Minister also announced a new DCMS partnership with techUK member Plexal, to support the diversification of the UK’s telecoms market and stimulate the creation of products and services from SMEs and startups. Plexal will identify SMEs to participate in a 12-week sprint—similar to LORCA— develop robust business cases, technology roadmaps and investment plans. The aim is to create a diverse commercial ecosystem for private 5G networks that enables large and small vendors to play a role. 

Wireless Infrastructure Strategy: Call for evidence questions

The call for evidence covers wireless infrastructure for communications services - communications between people, businesses and machines. The primary focus of this call for evidence is on services provided over cellular mobile networks. However, DCMS will also consider the role of other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi as well as the use of satellite communications services, mesh networks, private networks and so on. There may be, for example, use cases or applications which will utilise numerous types of connectivity or where users have the choice between a few suitable connectivity solutions. We would welcome views on this.

  1. What wireless connectivity will the UK require by 2030 in order to support the needs of consumers, businesses and public services? Please consider the type of wireless connectivity as well as the geographic or sector-related coverage, quality and capacity that will be required.
  2. What are the applications and future requirements that will drive this demand? For example, to what extent will sectors like transport, education and healthcare rely on the availability of wireless connectivity in 2030?
  3. What wireless connectivity is the market on track to deliver by 2030 in terms of geographic coverage, quality, capacity.
  4. What data sources should be used to report 4G and 5G coverage in the next reporting periods?
  5. How might the market structure for wireless connectivity services change over the next decade and what impact would these changes have on investment in wireless networks?
  6. How can the regulatory and policy framework best continue to support the development and deployment of wireless infrastructure? Please provide specific, evidence based suggestions.
  7. What should government consider when designing a policy and regulatory framework to support the development of new wireless technologies?
  8. What can the UK learn about the development and deployment of wireless networks in other countries?

For the full set of questions, and sub-sections, please visit the call for evidence page. Submissions of evidence should be emailed to [email protected] by 25 November 2021.

Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK