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UK government backs 5G lab to spur development following Huawei’s exit

Image credit: Dreamstime

The government is backing a new lab designed to speed up the development of 5G technologies in an attempt to compensate for the removal of Huawei from UK networks.

The Sonic Labs facility will be run by Ofcom and tech innovation agency Digital Catapult, and has received £1m in government support to carry out real-world testing.

The government hopes it will help to build a more secure supply chain which is less reliant on a small number of multinational suppliers and more accessible for new market entrants.

While Huawei was once one of the primary providers of 5G infrastructure, its alleged close links to the Chinese government led the UK to ban its technology from the networks.

In January 2020, it was given the option of playing a limited role in the UK’s 5G infrastructure, although this was later rolled back with networks told to remove all traces of the firm’s tech by 2027 at the latest.

Sonic Labs will be based in London and Brighton and will enable telecoms equipment manufacturers to examine how their kit behaves in a fully interoperable, technology-neutral mobile network

Digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said: “I’m thrilled that Sonic Labs is opening its doors to the wealth of telecoms expertise we have in this country to explore new ways of building 5G networks.

“Our investment is a crucial element of our strategy to tackle the world’s over-reliance on a small number of telecoms vendors by growing our own cutting-edge solutions at home.

“I look forward to seeing how the lab will help deliver the incredible social and economic benefits of new technology for people around the UK.”

Digital Catapult chief technology officer Joe Butler said: “In Sonic Labs we are experimenting to make interoperability a reality. This effort supports our mission to drive UK capability in advanced digital technology and we are grateful to Ofcom for working with us in this partnership and to DCMS for the opportunity to leverage the 5G testbeds we have developed in this effort.”

In his speech at the Sonic Labs launch, Warman also announced that DCMS is developing a long-term strategy for 5G and future wireless networks in the UK.

As part of this, the government will be considering the role of spectrum, the finite radio wave resource central to developing these technologies, and set out how the government will continue to prioritise wireless infrastructure as playing an integral role in the UK’s economy.

In April, proposals were introduced to relax the rules over 5G telecom masts, allowing them to be wider and taller, in order to help boost rural coverage.

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