The development of superfast mobile internet is speeding up with trials of 5G technology pencilled in for early 2018 on the back of millions in government funding.
A pot of cash worth £16m promised by chancellor Philip Hammond in the Spring Budget has been handed out to researchers to develop a 5G test network with the goal of putting the UK at the forefront of 5G innovation.
Experts at King's College London and the Universities of Bristol and Surrey will share the cash, with further funding promised for more academic, industry and local authority institutions next year.
“We want to be at the head of the field in 5G," said digital minister Matt Hancock.
"This funding will support the pioneering research needed to ensure we can harness the potential of this technology to spark innovation, create new jobs and boost the economy."
The government estimates 5G could add £173bn to the economy by 2030, powering new connected devices such as driverless cars and smart homes, as well as new technology such as virtual reality requiring greater power.
“We know 5G has the potential to bring more reliable, ultrafast mobile connectivity, with quicker reaction times and larger data capabilities," added Hancock.
Each institution will work on creating small-scale 5G networks with elements expected of the commercial networks of the future, such as transmitters and receivers. That will create a test bed for trials of the networks in real-life situations, planned for early 2018.
“This exciting programme builds on significant investment and a strong foundation of 5G research and development across the three institutions," said Rahim Tafazolli, director of the University of Surrey's government-backed 5G innovation centre.
"The programme will maintain and extend the UK’s leadership position in the race to transform many aspects of everyday life and business through digital transformation.”
5G networks are expected to start being deployed by 2020 with countries such as Asia and South Korea racing towards an even earlier date.
The government has been warned that it must do better at rolling out 5G than its previous efforts with 4G, which has yet to reach many rural areas in the UK after a less than timely auction of the spectrum.
The auction of 5G spectrum by the telecoms regulator is expected this year. Ofcom said it was still working out the technical standards for the spectrum in plans outlined at the start of the year.
The funding is the latest efforts to kickstart the digital economy. with £400m of cash promised for boosting Britain's broadband connectivity allocated earlier this week.