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What's in the UK's Budget 2016? A 5G strategy, a big data centre for the ONS and driverless cars

Tamlin Magee | March 18, 2016
The UK wants to be a world leader in 5G mobile technology.

The budget for 2016 committed the UK government to delivering a 5G strategy next year and delivering a "big data hub" for the Office for National Statistics, as well as plans to relax regulation surrounding connected cars.

However, apart from these initiatives, Chancellor George Osborne's speech today was rather light on the technology sector.

The government will deliver a 5G strategy in 2017 based on an assessment from the National Infrastructure Commission.

This assessment will explore how the UK can become a "world leader" in 5G deployment and how it can "take early advantage of the potential benefits of 5G services", including a case study based in the South West. A network planning tool will be on trial in Bournemouth.

Osborne mentioned the Broadband Investment Fund - first revealed in November 2015 - an effort to support the growth of alternative broadband networks. And the ultrafast broadband grant will distribute £14.5 million for coverage in the south west.

The budget also commits to provisions for "greater freedoms and flexibilities for the deployment of mobile infrastructure" - in other words, relaxed planning restrictions for telecoms networks, and allowing for taller masts for mobile coverage.

750MHz of public sector spectrum will also be released in bands under 10GHz by 2022, and 500MHz will be available by 2020.

The Office for National Statistics will receive more than £10 million from central government for a 'big data hub', to "maximise the public value of existing and new data sets using cutting-edge techniques".

Commenting on the data hub, Julian David, CEO of technology trade body techUK said: "Investment of £10 million in a new hub for data science will help the public and private sector make better use of data, which has the potential to reduce cost and improve public services."

Osborne also committed to conducting trials of driverless cars, with a consultation planned this summer to investigate relaxing regulation for autonomous vehicles on major roads in England.

A £15 million 'connected corridor' between London and Dover will also enable vehicles to interact with infrastructure and "potentially other vehicles".

Nissan Europe chairman Paul Wilcox welcomed the plans.

"These will support the development and growth of autonomous vehicle technology in the UK," Wilcox said.

There are questions surrounding the 5G commitment when there are still wider connectivity problems across the country - including in the 'Northern Powerhouse', which Osborne made frequent reference to as part of an effort to "rebalance our country".

The 'Northern Powerhouse' is a drive to promote the north of the country as a central area for business. Like the rest of the country it still suffers from 'not-spots' - where access to enterprise-grade Wi-Fi is lacking, and particularly in rural areas.

 

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