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October 6, 2023

UK and allies snub Europe with new global telecoms initiative

The group aims to promote network innovation, but will try to do it without the involvement of major players in the telco supply chain.

By Sophia Waterfield

The UK has joined a new telecoms networks initiative with a host of other countries from around the world. However, the Global Coalition for Telecommunications is notable for the absence of some of the major players in the telecoms supply chain – South Korea and EU members.

Helmeted asian male engineer works in the field with a telecommunication tower that controls cellular electrical installations to inspect and maintain 5G networks installed on high-rise buildings.
The UK has joined a coalition to help it become a leader in 6G. (Photo by chalermphon_tiam/Shutterstock)

The coalition for telecoms innovation includes countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan and the US and aims to “enhance the resilience of communication networks”. It will also see collaboration in research and development between the nations as well as information sharing and international outreach, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) says.

Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan described the partnership as “historic”, and said it “reflects our shared commitment to harnessing the power of telecommunications for the benefit of our nations and the world at large”.

DSIT has also said it is allocating £70m to the Future Telecoms UKRI Technology Missions Fund (TMF) programme, which will support the development of next-generation telecom technology in the country. As reported by Tech Monitor in April DSIT committed £100m to putting the UK at the “forefront of future research”, and the money that backs this week’s announcement comes from that pot.

UK government invests in 6G research

According to DSIT, the government is “cementing” its commitment to next-generation telecoms technology by putting £70m into the TMF programme. It says that the investment will help the UK become “a leader in 6G technology and beyond”.

DSIT hopes that technologies to better connect space-based and terrestrial networks as well as step changes in capacity and speeds in data transfer could come from the new research. The announcement says that universities and businesses across the country are ready to lead projects to make “game-changing ideas” a reality and bring them to market.

Like its predecessors, the term 6G has already been thrown around by telecommunication players across the world. The University of Surrey launched its 6G Innovation Centre in 2020 and network infrastructure suppliers such as Nokia researching the next-generation technology. The CEO of Nokia, Pekka Lundmark, predicts that 6G networks will be operating by 2030.

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But John Strand, founder of Strand Consult, told Tech Monitor that the hype around 6G has been seen before with 5G and 4G. He said many of those talking about the technology have a “lack of insight into what’s happening in the real world”. Strand points to a recent proclamation from China and Russia that they will be the next leaders on 6G: “The number of countries that have a dream that they will become leaders on 6G is very long,” he says.

The analyst believes much of the work on 6G will be done by the private sector, with standards decided by industry bodies such as the 3GPP and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). “In practical terms, much of the work happens in companies like Qualcomm, Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and Huawei that not only spend billions on research but also spend a lot of money on buying companies that develop new technology,” Strand says.

EU and South Korea left out of the Global Coalition of Telecommunications

Speaking on the collaboration with other countries, Donelan said that the UK will become well-positioned to “take the lead” when it comes to broadening supply chains, nurturing industry knowledge and “bolstering security.” Countries from the EU, such as Germany and France, and South Korea have not been included in the coalition.

Dean Bubley, founder of Disruptive Analysis, told Tech Monitor that this “snub” could be connected with Huawei. As reported by Tech Monitor, the UK and US have banned Huawei equipment from their telecommunication networks due to security concerns, but this is not the case across all European countries.

“[The coalition] reflects countries that seem to be more committed to open RAN and supplier diversity than most – whereas the EU has had a bit more of a softly-softly stance on Huawei, and also has its own security initiatives plus R&D collaborations and programmes,” Bubley says.

Bubley adds that it is also a surprise that South Korea is not part of the group. It has often deferred to private companies over whether they use Chinese suppliers like Huawei in their networks. When it received pressure from the US over Huawei, then vice-minister of foreign affairs Lee Tae-Ho said: “We made it clear that whether a private telecom company uses the equipment of a specific enterprise is up to that company to decide.”

Read more: The UK wants ISPs to secure their networks. It will be expensive

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