Research & development on 5G and 6G wireless technology and telecoms security is to be ramped up as part of a £110 million government investment.

In the package announced today, three UK universities – University of York, University of Bristol and University of Surrey – will receive a share of £28m to team up with major telecoms companies including Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung to design and build networks of the future such as 6G.

The move will bolster the UK’s status as a global leader in telecoms research and follows Ericsson and Samsung’s recent decision to set up cutting-edge 6G research centres in the UK. It will also support the roll out of lightning-fast 5G by making it easier for more firms to enter the market.

The universities will work with UK academics and industry players to ensure future network technologies, including 6G, are designed in a way that promotes a more diverse and innovative telecoms market, and brings an end to current network setups where all equipment within a network must be from a single supplier.

The package includes £80m for a previously announced state-of-the-art UK Telecoms Lab being built in Solihull in the West Midlands. Under a new contract the government has signed with the National Physical Laboratory, the lab will act as a secure research facility for mobile network operators, suppliers and academics to research and test the security, resilience and performance of their 5G and, in the future, 6G network technology. The facility will also create dozens of specialised jobs in telecoms and cyber security for the region.

A new R&D partnership with the Republic of Korea has also kicked off, which aims to accelerate the deployment of Open RAN and associated technologies. The joint project, which will receive more than £3m – including £1.2m from the UK government – will focus on the power efficiency of emerging technical equipment, one of the main obstacles holding back the roll out of the technology.

Open RAN enables operators to ‘mix and match’ equipment from several suppliers within a network, and is crucial to the government’s strategy to end the UK’s reliance on a small number of firms to build and maintain 5G networks.

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“The technology powering our phone and internet networks is evolving rapidly and with 6G on the horizon we must stay ahead of the curve,” said Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan.

“This government investment will see top UK universities join forces with industry to develop the nuts and bolts underpinning new networks, create skilled jobs testing the security of the latest telecoms tech, and ensure our plan for a more diverse and innovative 5G market is sustained in the future.

“The funding will also turbocharge our work to strengthen telecoms supply chains so we are no longer reliant on a handful of companies to develop and maintain our 5G networks.”

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said: “Tech is one of the most exciting and fastest growing sectors in our region so it’s great news that this £80m UK Telecoms Lab is being built in Solihull, reinforcing the importance of this sector for us here in the West Midlands.

“The Lab will bring a wide range of stakeholders together to drive innovation and create high quality new jobs for local people. With our tech sector already valued at over £15 billion, I cannot wait to see how this Lab helps to usher in an exciting future in the months and years ahead.”

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