UK Government release new guide for telecoms RDI funding and opportunities

What better a location or occasion than Mobile World Congress to launch a brand new guide outlining the UK government's research, development and innovation funding and opportunities? 

On 27 February, DSIT's incoming Director of Digital Infrastructure Sarah Connolly announced the new publication at the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Pavilion at an industry reception, along with InnovateUK's Tom Kirkham and the Head of UKTIN Nick Johnson. The reception also featured a video address from Minister Julia Lopez MP. 

The guide - which you can download here - provides an overview of recent publications and policy priorities from the Digital Infrastructure Directorate. This includes:

  • The Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, published last year, setting out the UK government's long-term vision for 5G and other advanced wireless connectivity. The key ambition introduced through this strategy was introducing standalone 5G coverage to all UK-populated areas by 2050.
  • A further priority of the team includes maximising the overall value of spectrum use to the UK, and understanding that spectrum is pivotal to the developments in the digital economy, including 5G roll-out.
  • The government's 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategypublished in November 2020, set out a plan to deliver a healthy supply market for telecoms. The focus was removing barriers to diversification, investing in emerging telecoms technologies, and working with like-minded countries to achieve the shared aim for secure and resilient telecoms supply chains. This included setting up the independent Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Advisory Council.
  • The government's Science and Technology Framework, launched last year, identifies 'Future Telecoms' as one of the five critical technologies to grow the UK economy, alongside AI, engineering, biology, semiconductors and quantum technologies.

The guide runs through Digital Infrastructure RDI interventions across the four priority categories, outlining the aims, current government investment and outputs so far:

  1. Delivering better coverage, particularly to hard-to-reach areas
  2. Stimulating the adoption of 5G and demonstrating the benefits it can bring
  3. Diversifying the supplier base in the 5G Radio Access Network to boost the resilience of our network
  4. Building UK's capability to shape the next generation of communications network

The delivery functions to tackle these priority interventions include the internal DSIT Delivery Function of the 'Future Network Programmes' with an assigned budget of £452 million until 2025. Recent R&D/Capital Spend Interventions include £200 million assigned to the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme running from 2017 to 2023. External delivery functions include InnovateUK and Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Current R&D/Capital spend interventions across this delivery function include the SBRI: Future Telecommunications Challenge of at least £22m.

As an example, to tackle the priority category area of delivering better coverage, particularly hard-to-reach areas, the Rural Connectivity Accelerator explores how it could be made easier for rural sectors to access the connectivity they need most quickly and cost-effectively. Investment from the government includes a £7.3m initiative announced in June 2023, with pilots to be delivered between Summer 2024 and March 2025. Outputs include a 'discovery and development' phase lasting from November 2023 to March 2024 followed by delivery and funding of the most impactful portfolio of pilots.

To build the UK's capability to shape the next generation of communications networks, the government identified future telecoms as one of the critical technologies in the Science and Technology Framework - making a long-term commitment to foster next-generation connectivity solutions in the UK. This included an initial investment of up to £100 million in a new Future Telecoms Mission that fits within the wider DSIT Technology Mission Fund (TMF) missions. All to help the UK to become a leader of 6G technology and beyond - including improving the energy efficiency of networks through cloudification. In October 2023, the UK government announced an initial £70 million to develop the next generation of telecommunications technology via the TMF.

This guide is useful in bringing together the current funding and grant landscape for the telecoms ecosystem, and the priorities of the Future Telecoms Programme. But, to drive further investment and ensure uptake of both gigabit-capable and 5G technology, techUK call for the government to go further. As outlined in our UK Tech Plan, techUK continue to call for the next Government to work with the telecoms sector to devise a new strategy that includes targets to: achieve 85% full fibre take-up by 2030 and encourage the widespread adoption of standalone 5G across businesses.

On the ground at MWC...

techUK's Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy Sophie Greaves was on the ground at Mobile World Congress (MWC) and saw the announcement of the guide live from Barcelona.

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Sarah Connolly, Director, Digital Infrastructure, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology announcing the new guide at Mobile World Congress (MWC).

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Minister Julia Lopez MP, Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology announcing the new guide at Mobile World Congress (MWC).



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Contact the team

Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Jaynesh Patel

Jaynesh Patel

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK

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