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September 20, 2023updated 21 Sep 2023 9:43am

Funding for smart street lamps could boost UK 5G connectivity

A pilot scheme will look at how local authorities can utilise the technology to unlock economic and environmental benefits.

By Sophia Waterfield

Smart street lamps that could house technologies such as electric vehicle charging hubs and 5G networks are being trialled by several UK councils.

An image of street lights, lit against twilight backdrop.
Street lamps are about to get smarter thanks to a pilot funded by DSIT. (Photo by Take Photo/Shutterstock)

Funding from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) will help the local authorities trial ‘multi-purpose’ technology that could unlock economic and environmental benefits. Six areas will share a £1.3m pot to test these digital solutions and invest £2.7m themselves, taking the total funding for the scheme to £4m.

How the smart street lamp pilot will work

Four of the six councils receiving funding are situated in the south of England, with two of them being in London. The Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP) is providing the funding to the councils ranging from £165,000 to £250,000 per local authority. Each council can adapt the pilots to carry out a range of functions, says the government. These could include charging electric vehicles, monitoring air quality, displaying public information and saving energy.

Different uses will be trialled across the six areas to show how wireless technology can become an integral part of UK infrastructure. DSIT also hopes the pilots will connect public services and businesses in new ways, realising the benefits of 5G and advanced connectivity.

Smart lamps will open up opportunities for business and public sector to work together

Sir John Whittingdale, minister for data and digital infrastructure, said that the government wanted to ensure that towns and cities across the country were at the forefront of the "connectivity revolution".

"The way we stay in touch, access information and do business is underpinned by digital connectivity – and a world-class wireless infrastructure will be the foundation for the jobs, skills, and services of the future," Whittingdale said. He added that the funding would help people in the local authorities seize the opportunities brought by advanced wireless technology, as well as help the councils deliver better public services.

The SIPP is designed to support the government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. As reported by Tech Monitor, the policy paper sets out how the UK government will prioritise wireless connectivity in existing and new infrastructure as well as driving private investment.

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The smart lamp pilot programmes will begin in October and will run until 31 March 2025.

DSIT pushing programmes for connectivity agenda

The SIPP programme is a complimentary initiative for the 5G Innovation Regions, which the government announced in April. Both form part of DSIT's wider push to drive 5G adoption across the UK.

According to Ofcom's Mobile Matters 2023 report, urban populations spend more time on 5G and 4G networks than their rural counterparts. The rural population spent more time using 2G or 3G networks, sometimes using no cellular connection at all.

With 3G networks such as the EE network being switched off in the coming months, the government has tried different ways to bring connectivity to rural areas. Last month it launched a new £160m fund to back satellite-based solutions that could fill gaps in the 5G network, with DSIT committing to standalone 5G by 2030.

Julian David, CEO of tech trade body techUK, said the pilot is a "welcome step" from the government: "We must empower more local authorities so that they can foster the greater use of advanced connectivity in their areas, helping unlock growth and innovation across the whole of the UK," David said.

Read more: HMRC picks Kyndryl for £4.4m cloud migration project

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