UK government pushes 5G, AI, connectivity in industrial strategy report

British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced an industrial strategy green paper, marking the beginning of a public consultation in the direction the post-Brexit UK should aim to develop economically, and it's largely focused on advancing new technologies.

Connectivity, 5G, and STEM skills all feature in the report, prompting cautious words of welcome from the technological sector.

The ten ‘pillars’ that are central to the report are: ‘investing in science, research and innovation’, ‘developing skills’, ‘upgrading infrastructure’, ‘supporting businesses to start and grow’, ‘improving procurement’, ‘encouraging trade and inward investment’, ‘delivering affordable energy and clean growth’, ‘cultivating world-leading sectors’, ‘driving growth across the whole country’, and ‘creating the right institutions to bring together sectors and places’.

The report specifically points to advancing the development of technologies like smart and clean energy, robotics and AI, autonomous vehicles, drones, satellite and space technologies, healthcare, manufacturing and future materials, biotechnology, quantum technologies, supercomputing, advanced modelling, and 5G networks.

Some commentators have suggested that the paper – titled Building Our Industrial Strategy (PDF) - marks a shift in strategy away from the laissez faire-approach favoured by David Cameron and George Osborne, and signals a willingness for government to intervene in industry.

In particular, the government appears to be willing to remove regulation, although the paper does not specify exactly which regulation and how. It notes: “We are committed to saving businesses £10 billion by improving regulation during this Parliament.”

But it does reference the Cutting Red Tape programme, in which businesses were asked to tell the government how “it can cut red tape and reduce bureaucratic barriers to growth and productivity within their sector”.

The government will also be open to creating new institutions for skills and research if businesses are able to present a convincing enough argument.

Jason Stamper, a data management and analytics analyst at 451 Research, tells Computerworld UK that the references to 5G should be welcomed, although the UK still has a long way to go in terms of delivering broadband.

“Any investment initiatives from the government in the internet of things-related space, broadband, wireless etc should be welcomed,” Stamper said. “However, I know that we lag many countries in terms of our overall investment and we’re particularly patchy on things like broadband and that hasn’t been helped by some of the largest providers in that space.”

“I know people who live in Brighton who struggle daily with broadband challenges as well as getting to London on their trains,” he added. “So I think we could do with working on broadband speeds first, but any investment in IoT should be welcomed as it’s a real thing and not just hype.”

Cisco UK & Ireland’s CTO Alison Vincent specifically welcomed that the report addresses a perceived skills gap in the UK.

“We believe that today’s investment will help to shift perceptions and inspire the younger generation to take part in STEM subjects from an early age,” Vincent said. “By encouraging business and educators to work collaboratively with the government, we can clearly communicate the opportunities these skills can present to young people, and embrace digitisation in every region of the UK.”

Vincent also welcomed a £170 million fund to create new technology institutes. HPE’s MD for UK & Ireland, Marc Waters, said the business “welcomes the publication of the greenpaper and the focus being placed on digital technology and the development of a modern industrial strategy.”

A perceived skills gap in STEM subjects was the talk of Davos last week – with technology industry CEOs including Satya Nadella and Ginni Rometty describing the need to retrain in these areas as a pressing political and economic matter, especially with the onset of automation and artificial intelligence.


Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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