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November 17, 2020updated 31 Mar 2023 10:39am

BT’s often overlooked R&D focus transmits ambition to be innovation leader

BT's significant annual R&D spend of more than £660m represents almost 3% of annual revenue.

By Edward Qualtrough

British tech, media and telco company BT was cited as the leading UK organisation in GlobalData’s telecom scorecard, a listing which ranks companies within a sector based on overall leadership in the biggest technology and geopolitical trends and themes affecting that industry.

The former UK national telecoms network – which became a content producer and media provider to complement its technology services business – has now been noted as a pacesetter in cloud, cybersecurity and 5G, and is recognised in the Technology Leaders Index for its strategic investments and R&D focus; the company spent more than £660m on R&D in 2019.

The BT Tower in London. (Photo by Chris Dorney/Shutterstock)

BT has innovation centres in  California’s Silicon Valley, Japan, Israel, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, China, India and across Europe, with a main hub at Adastral Park in Suffolk, England.

It conducts R&D in collaboration with leading academic institutions including Cambridge University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and performs co-innovations with startups through BT Infinity Lab.

The company has a portfolio of well over 5,000 patents and applications, and in the first quarter of 2020 alone filed for 103 patents.

BT company collaborates with IBM, Google, Cisco, and Microsoft to offer cloud and network services, and through its partnerships with the BCS – the Chartered Institute for IT – it has trained more than 85,000 teachers and 2.8 million children on computational and tech learning.

Using its expertise in networking, cloud and tech services meanwhile, in March 2020 BT launched its Security Advisory Services practice as it expanded its cyber capabilities.

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GlobalData analysts noted BT’s significant investments in 5G technology, although given the company’s greater reliance on Huawei equipment in its network compared to UK rivals Vodafone, chief technology and information officer Howard Watson told MPs in July 2020 that it would likely turn to partners Ericsson and Nokia to develop its 5G infrastructure. The company subsequently announced in September 2020 that it would work with Nokia on developing the open-source OpenRAN ecosystem favoured by rivals Vodafone, while Ericsson would provide its core 5G technology.

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