5G has long been heralded as a revolutionary advance in mobile communications, offering speeds up to 100 times those of 4G. What is not always appreciated is the effect 5G could have on the way we currently access the internet, because it has the capacity to replace conventional broadband, including high-speed fibre networks. The prospect of a genuinely innovative wireless system, end-to-end, is on the verge of becoming a reality.
At the same time there has been widespread suspicion of this advanced technology, with extravagant claims that the radiation from 5G masts can cause cancer, spread Covid and even enable mind control. Measured scientific investigations have so far failed to find any evidence for these assertions.
For all the talk of 5G and the sale of 5G-ready devices, we seem to have been waiting a long time for this critical technology to become a reality. This is largely because it is in the hands of the world's commercial mobile network operators and the investment required is considerable. Consequently they have concentrated on major cities and towns and focused on specific capabilities.
Now the UK government has stepped in to accelerate the process. In 2021 they announced the Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA), a two-year project to make it easier and cheaper for the operators to carry things forward. The deadline for submissions passed in November of 2021, and pilots are due to start in the first quarter of 2022.
The initiative is a £4 million trial which will give the companies much greater access to public buildings so they can install transmitters within existing structures and save the costs of erecting new masts. It will also encourage the use of specialist digital tech to streamline access to these public sites. The range of locations will not be limited simply to buildings such as town halls, libraries and museums. It will include curbside infrastructure such as traffic lights and CCTV poles, allowing 5G radio equipment to be sited cheaply and unobtrusively.
However it can be difficult to ascertain which options are feasible since location, dimensions and access to power are key considerations. The prime objective of the trials is to help operators identify which locations are suitable by piloting the latest innovations in digital asset management platforms. Local councils can then share the data which will allow the operators to speed up the rollout.
Matt Warman is the Digital Infrastructure Minister. He explained: "The lampposts lining our streets have huge potential to accelerate the roll out of 5G and reduce the need to build new masts, but right now getting access to this infrastructure can be tricky. That's why we are investing millions to help local councils and mobile companies work together more effectively in bringing the incredible benefits of faster connectivity to people across the UK."
Hamish MacLeod is a Director at Mobile UK, the trade association which speaks on behalf of EE, O2, 3 and Vodafone. He added: "Mobile networks are critical to the UK's economic recovery yet deploying infrastructure on public assets has often proved difficult. We welcome this competition aimed at breaking down these barriers and accelerating investment in 5G by piloting new digital platforms that bring together public bodies and mobile operators to make publicly-owned infrastructure more easily accessible. We are committed to working closely with the DCMS and Local Authorities on this project."
The DCIA is one of the initiatives that comprise the government's levelling up policy. It is part of 2019's Shared Outcomes Fund spending round, which will pay for a range of projects up to the end of 2023. The successful applicants in the bidding process were due to be revealed in January but this has been delayed. An announcement is expected soon.