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UK explores £160m satellites fund, boosting 5G coverage

Written by Thu 3 Aug 2023

The UK Government has announced a potential £160 million ($125 million) investment fund to boost broadband, 5G coverage, and next-generation satellites. This could mark the UK’s ‘most significant’ investment ever in satellite communications.

Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan MP, announced the Connectivity in Low Earth Orbit (CLEO) scheme on Tuesday, acknowledging how this ‘record investment’ could present a ‘huge opportunity’ to position the UK as a ‘true space superpower’.

“Tackling the digital divide is at the heart of empowering our citizens wherever they live, and by investing in the vital research and development that CLEO would facilitate, we can level up our country while growing the economy through high-quality jobs,” said Donelan.

CLEO will aim to deliver the R&D needed to support the launch of hundreds of satellites into space.

The UK Government is exploring grant funding of up to £100 million ($127 million) for the satellites fund, backed by an additional £60 million ($76 million) from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) UK-backed Advanced Research in Telecommunications Systems (ARTES) programme.

“Our intent is to catalyse investment, build on existing capabilities and meet the challenges associated with seizing a significant share of a fast-moving global market, by leveraging our growing national space programme and leading investments in commercial ESA programmes such as ARTES,” said Harshbir Sangha, Missions and Capabilities Delivery Director at the UK Space Agency.

The package is set to be complemented by a 5G integration projects like a 5G testing facility at ESCAT in Oxfordshire. This project aims to establish networks in underserved and remote areas, bringing high-speed internet and connections to every single part of the UK, while addressing a major priority to improve Future Telecoms, as laid out in the government’s Science and Technology Framework.

Another key focus of CLEO includes leveraging AI to improve data delivery and create interconnected networks that can ‘serve billions of people worldwide’. The Government stated that satellites will be key to offering connectivity in remote and rural parts of the UK. The scheme also aims to create hundreds of highly skilled jobs to boost the Prime Minister’s priority of growing the UK economy.

The vital importance of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites was demonstrated by ensuring continuous and reliable connectivity during Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. In wake of this, the CLEO scheme is expected to provide critical support to researchers and businesses to develop new constellations and smarter satellites with better hardware.

This announcement comes just two days after the UK Government launched a £40 million ($50 million) fund for local and regional authorities to accelerate 5G innovation and drive digital connectivity.

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Written by Thu 3 Aug 2023

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