UKTIN lays out its vision for boosting UK telecoms

The UK Telecoms Innovation Network has announced its presence with a government funded plan to bolster research, development and innovation in the UK telecoms ecosystem.

Andrew Wooden

April 27, 2023

6 Min Read
Head of UKTIN Nick Johnson

The UK Telecoms Innovation Network has announced its presence with a government-funded plan to bolster research, development and innovation in the UK telecoms ecosystem.

Analysts, journos, and other industry types today gathered in a London hotel for the launch of UKTIN, which has set itself the task of giving the UK telecoms innovation space a shot in the arm by helping to coordinate R&D efforts and drum up investment into SMEs doing clever things with connectivity.

The organisation is government funded and ‘delivered’ by a consortium made up of Digital Catapult, Cambridge Wireless, University of Bristol and WM5G. Part of the mission is to produce guidance and resources for organisations looking to enter the UK telecoms space or expand their existing footprint, another is to provide a kind of idea sharing/matchmaking space to make sure everyone in the business of inventing things in telecoms is a bit more synchronised. It’s also pledged to hook up skilled workers with potential employers.

The launch featured a video from Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure Julia Lopez, who talked about how great 5G is, the importance of Open RAN (while never actually using the term), and even 6G. The general message was the UK is the place for companies to come and innovate in telecoms.

UKTIN is there to address ‘fragmentation of the innovation landscape in UK’, we were told, or getting research institutes, universities and corporate R&D all pulling towards ‘true north.’

It also includes events, a database of UK R&D for things ‘Google can’t find’, and a web portal designed to provide some sort of hub for all of this. We spoke to the Head of UKTIN Nick Johnson (pictured) to get some clarity on the mission.

In a sentence, it’s an alignment to get all the elements of the innovation ecosystem connected up with each other, all of the academic R&D, corporate R&D, product development, skills and training, deployment skills, deployment tools… and get it deployed globally,” he said. “It’s UK industry but the customers are global. It’s that alignment – we can’t do it ourselves, but we have to just be the guide.”

He was keen to stress it’s not about picking winners, and more about promoting the UK sector to worldwide investment in general, and then trying to create a platform for common thinking in the direction the R&D takes which that investment would be funnelled into.

“If you just let R&D do what it feels like, then some people will figure out ‘I need do to this because it’s power consumption, or network operations costs or this that and the other, but it’ll be some individual opinions guiding that within a company. But as a sector, we have to promote the concerns of the customer base,” said Johnson.

“It’s a very diverse customer base – big telcos with a very mature business are mainly worried about OPEX… other segments have different priorities. The satellite segment has a different set of priorities, a neutral host has some different priorities. We don’t know necessarily what those all are yet, but the point is to draw them out and make sure that the people developing products and exploiting IP know about them and can guide their products accordingly.”

You can’t say all this doesn’t sound like it could in theory be useful, but with these sorts of schemes it can be sometimes hard to track what has tangibly been achieved. Today was the launch so it was more about outlining the grand vision, but we asked Johnson a few years down the line what success and failure would look like for UKTIN.

“I know what failure looks like, failure looks like a conversation with ourselves. It’s an echo chamber, the nightmare of the echo chamber… engagement is the most important thing. So lacking engagement is a sure sign of failure. If we haven’t got the conversations going with all of the customer segments, including big telco, small telco, satellites, fixed, mobile –  if we haven’t got the conversations going with all those segments, that’s failure.

“I think success is actually more than that. Successes is engagement with all of that plus… as an example, measuring the number of SMEs who are entering telecoms or producing telecoms related products, getting it deployed, getting equity investment, as a result of the activities in the network.

“For instance the specialist supplier guidance service – if you if we talking to a couple of companies that take on board the message we’re giving them about where the operators are going in five or ten years, and they actually start to produce and deploy product… that’s the kind of success we’re looking for, to say this is something that’s made a real difference to the sector.”

Part of the project sounds in some way to be a remedy to the fact while there is lots of R&D action, the UK doesn’t tend to throw out lots of big successful tech firms in a way like the US, or California, does. When asked why the UK is good at good at research, but perhaps bad at translating that into big applied commercialisation, Johnson added:

“I think there’s a scale problem. If you if you’ve got a company whose customers are in the UK, that’s not enough of a market to allow people to develop the IP that you need for that kind of scale. There is definitely an issue with international export capability. I think the idea getting people to commit to export early-on in their lifecycle is a challenge, because it’s kind of scary and hard to find out what the requirements are of the global market. And I think that’s one of the problems that UKTIN will help solve – to actually give UK innovators a global view of what’s going on and in the US, Japan and rest of Europe.

“If you start getting companies more clued into what’s going on in the Indian market, you’ve got a huge, huge market there that could actually then start to promote scale and support that productization step. That’s the missing bit that has been in in the UK success story. Good at the front end, okay at the back end, crap in the middle.”

The programme is government funded and they made a point of making Lopez’s video statement front and centre of the launch event, which is emblematic of how interested the government has become in telecoms recently. When asked what made the government start caring so much, Johnson concluded:

“From a UKTIN point of view the history starts really with that telecom diversification report. I think it was triggered by that whole Huawei episode – they suddenly realised that there was this critical national infrastructure which was quite vulnerable and they needed to take care of it. And I think a side effect of that they started to realise actually this is huge… the UK is very active in this area and it’s got a lot to capitalise on.”


Get the latest news straight to your inbox. Register for the newsletter here.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like