New funding puts UK at heart of next-gen telecommunications

26th February 2024
Paige West

The UK Space Agency has unveiled a £10 million funding competition aimed at propelling UK firms to the forefront of the burgeoning telecommunications sector globally.

This initiative, announced at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, aligns with the UK's dedication to the European Space Agency's (ESA) Advanced Research in Telecommunication Systems (ARTES) programme, underscoring the nation's commitment to pioneering the next wave of telecommunications services, products, and applications.

This investment seeks to foster a wide array of innovations, ranging from cutting-edge products or components to comprehensive systems or services, encompassing space, ground, or network segments. The funding could catalyse the development of revolutionary space communication technologies, such as lasers, or spearhead new market opportunities, including enhancing global shipping and trade efficiency through space technology.

Andrew Griffith MP, Minister for Space, highlighted the strategic importance of telecommunications to the UK's future, stating: “Telecommunications is vital for the future of the UK, by connecting remote areas, improving healthcare and upgrading navigation, which is why it is a key Government priority, backed by schemes like Project Gigabit rolling out super-fast connectivity across the country.

“Our additional investment of £10 million today will put the UK at the forefront of the next generation of telecoms, as well as supporting the experts and innovators who make these pioneering breakthroughs possible, boosting the UK economy through our thriving space sector.”

Echoing the sentiment, Dr Paul Bate, Chief Executive of the UK Space Agency, remarked: “Satellites have connected people and businesses across the world for decades, and the UK has a rich heritage in advanced communications technology.

“As demand for global connectivity and data continues to soar, this funding will help UK companies develop and broaden their range of products and services – from satellite components to ground systems – and collaborate with new partners. It is a great example of how we can use our leading role in ESA to catalyse investment and unlock the benefits of future telecoms technologies.”

The ARTES programme is designed to foster innovation in telecommunications that enhances life on Earth and opens business growth avenues. The newly announced funding could support initiatives that bolster connectivity in underserved regions, facilitate medical supply delivery via drones, or optimise traffic management for autonomous vehicles.

The UK Space Agency is also gearing up to host a webinar on 22 March to guide potential applicants through the funding application process and how their innovations could align with this strategic vision.

With the UK's significant £190 million commitment to ARTES at the ESA Council of Ministers in November 2022, this funding announcement builds on the UK's leadership within the programme. The initial £20 million funding round was disclosed at the inauguration of ESA’s European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications (ECSAT) at the Harwell Space Cluster, highlighting the UK's continued investment in cutting-edge telecommunications, including the 5G/6G convergence.

Antonio Franchi, Head of the 5G/6G Non-Terrestrial Network Programme Office at ESA, underscored the value of collaboration: “ESA is proud of its strong partnerships that underpin the ARTES programme. Working in collaboration helps us maximise the impact of ESA’s expertise in communications, with the aim of connecting everyone, everywhere and at any time.

“By supporting innovation, we support the advancement of the digital transformation of society and industry. Together, we ensure Europe’s leading position in the field of telecommunications.” 

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