UK Government Investing £100 Million in Future Telecoms Technologies (a.k.a. 6G)

As many developed nations continue spending on 6G, the UK Government has announced that, "alongside the 6G Strategy we have therefore launched a new, long-term national mission, with initial funding of up to £100 million, to ensure the UK is at the leading-edge of future telecoms and 6G technologies."

Last month, the UK Government launched the UK Science and Technology Framework which sets out an approach to making the UK a science and technology superpower by 2030. The report identified a portfolio of five critical technologies:

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) – Machines that perform tasks normally performed by human intelligence, especially when the machines learn from data how to do those tasks.
  • Engineering biology – the application of rigorous engineering principles to the design of biological systems.
  • Future telecommunications - evolutions of the infrastructure for digitised data and communications.
  • Semiconductors – a class of electronic materials with unique properties that sit at the heart of the devices and technology we use every day.
  • Quantum technologies – devices and systems which rely on quantum mechanics, to provide capabilities that ‘classical’ machines cannot. 

The UK Wireless Infrastructure Strategy expands on the strategy for 6G. The following is an extract from the document:

The UK has historically been one of the most influential countries in shaping the direction of new generations of telecoms. Major British companies such as Marconi, GEC and Plessey, Cable & Wireless, BT and Vodafone have had a wide-reaching impact on the development of telecoms technologies. Although it is inevitable that countries such as Japan, South Korea, China and the US will continue to be dominant forces in this area due to the scale of their markets and strength of their telecoms and internet industries, there is an opportunity for the UK to build on our existing expertise and ensure we play a role in early stage and applied research, guiding the development of future enabling systems, technologies and standards.

We are at a critical juncture in the development of 6G networks. By asserting our place at the table of international fora, forging partnerships, developing UK expertise, and supporting our industry and academic talent, we can grow UK capability in this strategically important area. This will drive sustainable and productive growth and guarantee a more secure and resilient supply chain for generations to come.

The decisions that will shape 6G will be made over the next few years, with the global development of 6G likely to follow a similar timeline to 5G. Critical pre-standardisation research is already underway and we expect that 6G standards-setting will have begun by 2025. Commercial deployment is likely to begin towards the end of this decade. This 6G strategy therefore seeks to deliver the following objectives:

  • to ensure that the global 6G vision supports the requirements of UK operators and the UK’s wider policy ambitions
  • to influence the development of 6G technologies: we want to build on the UK’s existing research strengths and expertise to influence the development of key areas of 6G technology
  • to develop capability in UK telecoms: We want to support and develop UK capability in future telecoms, including 6G - by supporting UK industry and academia we can drive future UK economic prosperity, be at the heart of the growth of this technology and help ensure that the UK‘s telecoms network is secure and resilient

The next generation of telecoms should support UK industry and government ambitions. UK network operators have called for a smooth transition from 5G to 6G, for software upgrades to be favoured over hardware replacements and for the later stages of 5G to be deployed in a way that enables the introduction of 6G with minimal ‘dead end’ deployment. Reducing ‘dead end’ deployment means less wasted hardware and software that cannot be used for future generations of telecoms.

We also want 6G to support wider government objectives, including achieving net zero, delivering economic growth, and ensuring network security and resilience, as well as spectrum efficiency. At the same time, 6G needs to be able to help nations tackle the important societal challenges of the next decade, including digital inclusion, broadcast and entertainment requirements, emergency services, smart cities and future transport networks, environmental management and better access to health and social care.

This strategy sets out a UK vision for 6G, as well as detailing our priorities for the global 6G vision to guide the government, Ofcom and industry’s approach to international fora. Advocacy in international fora and collaboration with international partners will be key to ensuring that 6G delivers on these objectives. The key avenues we will use for advocating for these requirements are the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), and the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT).

6G standards-setting will begin in 2024 and research in 6G-related technologies, which will form the basis of the standards setting discussions, has been ongoing internationally for 2 to 3 years. Whilst UK universities have demonstrated significant strengths in key areas, it is vital we ensure their work and the associated funding streams are focused and coordinated. In the development of 6G, the next 18 months will be the critical period in which promising research programmes can be coordinated towards the 6G standard setting process and long term public policy goals.

Global companies and research institutions are already filing patents in areas of candidate technology for 6G and a proportion of these will become standards-essential intellectual property for 6G. Access to these will be necessary for any UK company to develop 6G technologies and products. In the UK, however, our exceptionally strong telecoms research base has not been consistently carried through to patent filings. As part of this strategy we will therefore consider how best to ensure that intellectual property developed in the UK is protected, supporting international export and adoption opportunities and our ability to develop and deploy 6G as early as possible.

Telecoms R&D demands large scale investments. Export markets for 6G will therefore be essential to sustaining domestic capability in R&D, and we recognise the need for effective international collaboration to harmonise UK and international requirements wherever possible. Assuring government requirements are prioritised, implemented and attract strong match funding will also be key to securing the scale of investment needed.

The pillars of the UK’s 6G Strategy

Meeting these ambitions will require concerted action with the UK telecoms industry and universities as well as other countries, multinational operators and technology vendors. The aim of this strategy is to set out a coherent approach that will guide and direct this action, backed up by targeted measures to ensure that this technology develops in line with the UK’s vision and broader objectives.

The actions set out in this document are not exhaustive; as 6G develops so too will the specifics of our approach under each of these pillars. We will continue to review the activity needed to ensure that our approach remains focused and as effective as possible.

In constructing this strategy we have drawn on responses to the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy call for evidence, discussions with industry and academic stakeholders[footnote 37], Ofcom, government agencies and departments, and insights from industry and research publications from the UK and internationally.

Through this consultation process, 6 themes emerged as priority areas of focus (see figure 1). These themes form the pillars of this strategy, setting out the areas of activity that will be a priority for the government in the development of 6G.

  1. Pillar 1: a UK vision for 6G
  2. Pillar 2: Focusing UK research and development for 6G
  3. Pillar 3: Patents and standards
  4. Pillar 4: Spectrum
  5. Pillar 5: International alliances

You can read all the details in the report here.

UK is not the only country investing in 6G. The following is a non-exhaustive list of other countries/regions investing in 6G:

  • Feb 2023 - South Korea, $481 million
  • Jan 2023 - France, €750 million
  • Sep 2022 - Japan, $450 million
  • Aug 2022 - Spain, €116 million (5G+ and 6G) 
  • July 2021 - Singapore, US$50 million
  • Apr 2021 - Germany, €700 million
  • Apr 2021 - USA, $2 billion (includes 5G & Open RAN)
  • Mar 2021 - EU, €900 million
  • June 2019 - China, unspecified amount

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