We caught up with UK Telecoms Innovation Network, roughly a year on from its launch, to find out how its mission to unify the UK telecoms scene and provide a smoother path for fresh innovation has progressed.

Andrew Wooden

March 6, 2024

5 Min Read

In April 2023, the UK Telecoms Innovation Network was announced as a government-funded plan to bolster research, development and innovation in the UK telecoms ecosystem.

Its mission statement was to produce guidance and resources for organisations looking to enter the UK telecoms space or expand their existing footprint, as well as provide some mechanisms for aligning start-up level innovation with the investment sector, and ultimately with a properly scoped out customer base. It also pledged to hook up skilled workers with potential employers.

The broad ambition it is to make the UK telecoms space less fragmented, and make clear the list of pain points/desired solutions and therefore business opportunities that exist – which in theory should help new innovative firms find a commercial landing zone for their inventions, and thus help grease the wheels of the entire domestic sector.

Roughly a year on, according to its latest figures it now has 150,000 projects in its vector database, 9 expert working groups, 5 adoption working groups, 3035 registered organisations, and 6241 registered individuals.

We caught up with Head of UKTIN Nick Johnson at MWC 2024, who as well as giving us a glimpse of a new AI tool the organisation is working on designed to help firms with specific niches find each other, told us how the grand vision of UKTIN has been received by the sector, and what tangible progress has been made.

“Last April we had the launch event, when we’d done basically not very much. We'd started to recruit our expert working groups, we were talking about getting a long-term vision for the future of telecoms in the UK, getting that organized, and started to recruit those chairs…. back then – this is evidence of impact – people were telling us that this is hopeless task, telling us you're trying to do this thing, trying to get people to give their time for free, you’re asking for too much, you’re going to have to pay them or It's just never going to happen.

“Guess what? We've recruited nine chairs, in fact nine chairs plus some co-chairs and 140 odd people into those working groups to give their time and their views of how things should be in the ecosystem. That's the one of the biggest impacts I think we've had in the work of UKTIN is that representation of the ecosystem. It's what the UK ecosystems thinks, and it's a broad based view – we’ve not been captured by one company, or one government department, or one vested interest. We are truly representing an ecosystem and it is one of the major achievements of UKTIN to transcend that initial scepticism about whether this was actually even feasible, and get to the point where we've got 140 People working in these groups, and we've published the first couple of reports.”

Corralling an entire industry to singing from the same hymn sheet is no small task, and the fruits of doing so may not even be the easiest thing to measure – but UKTIN is gunning for a ‘version 1’ of a future roadmap for telecoms in the UK, which it says will act as a guiding light for the telco ecosystem.

“We'll continue over the next few months with that first iteration of those papers, and then repeat the exercise in less than a year's time, so that by the end of March 2025 we will have essentially version 1 of the UK roadmap for future telecoms. That has a lot of consequences because we can then say, here's a roadmap for the for the UK ecosystem that people can get behind. It’s not like you're not in the dark anymore. You've got a light that is guiding you in a particular direction. And you can argue, things get updated, priorities change, and we will update that roadmap as time goes forward.

“But at least we have it, and we have the structures that produced it. And so we’ll continue to use those structures and they'll refresh themselves over time – people will need to move on, and new people will come in, but we’ll continue to represent the ecosystem and will continue to update that roadmap for UK telecoms.”

Grand visions are one thing – but with regards to how that roadmap could be specifically used by companies large and small who think they have a bright idea for a new product, Johnson says:

“In terms of consequences, what that means is that we've got people who can now embark on the innovations that they come up with, with some confidence that what they're doing has a landing zone in in the market. So these things aren’t ‘suck it and see’ – to come back to the question about what the telco sector needs, if it's looking for innovations about managing power consumption in radio in the terrestrial segment or in datacentres, or a non-terrestrial network needs power consumption management and so on, then these innovations that go along with that will find a home, and they'll find the market.

“So that gives the innovators confidence to do something in the right direction. But also crucially, it gives investors confidence that what they're investing in, if it's aligned with this roadmap, it has a better chance than otherwise of bearing fruit.”

A large part of the plan seems to be about attempting to remove some of that unknown factor when it comes to potential product profitability, and perhaps improve the relatively low odds of a startup flourishing into a functional market player.

“We all know with VCs, it's a statistical game. Most startups fail. That rule that we all hear about from VC community that every business plan has to give a 10X return on capital… that's fair, because nine out of ten, or eight out of ten startups fail. So if you can get 10X return out of 20% of your investments, then you're going to win. So if we can improve the odds of that, then that has to help. It's not going to happen overnight, but I think the more the more we talk about it, the more convincing it will become. People will start to see that we're not investing in adding features to a network that aren't really needed. We're actually addressing the true business need of the sector.”

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MWC 2024

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

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

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