Willetts orders 5G spectrum to be opened up

SCIENCE minister David Willetts has announced plans to open up state-owned radio spectrum in a bid to make Britain a world leader in next-generation mobile phone technology.

He has asked Ofcom to find a way of issuing on-demand, short term licences for such activities, with private companies and universities expected to take advantage as they rush to develop 5G mobile devices.

Willetts told an audience on Friday that while Britain had been a “world leader” during the initial mobile phone boom of the 1980s the country “went off the pace” during the last decade. Now, he explained, it has a chance to reestablish its standing as a home for world-beating research.

Under his plan, spectrum allocated to public bodies such as the army could be leased out on a temporary basis for the testing of high-speed mobile data services.

“At present a substantial part of the suitable spectrum is still in the hands of public sector users, supporting important public services, but in many cases this spectrum could be more effectively utilised,” the department for business, innovation and skills explained.

More details will be unveiled in the government’s forthcoming strategy paper on digital connectivity, content and consumers.

Last year the government part-funded a £35m grant to establish a 5G innovation centre under the control of the University of Surrey.

But it is early days for the technology and consumers will have to wait until at least the end of the decade before it becomes available.

Earlier this year South Korean electronics giant Samsung claimed it had made a breakthrough when it announced it could send data at a speed of 1GB/second over a distance of two miles. By comparison 4G, which is currently being rolled out in the UK, can transmit at around 100MB/second.