The UK government has announced that as part of a £1.3m pilot it is funding, government towns and cities across the UK are to deploy smart street lamps to test next-gen digital technology, offering electric vehicle (EV) charging and improved wireless connectivity.
It said that with the rising demand for wireless services such as 5G or free public Wi-Fi, technology companies and service providers are increasingly exploring opportunities to install infrastructure on lamp posts, traffic lights, CCTV columns, benches, bins and bus stops.
These pilots can also be adapted to carry out a range of functions – from charging EVs to monitoring air quality, and displaying public information to saving energy with street lighting – that will enable councils and combined authorities to unlock new opportunities, and improve public services.
By trialling different uses across these areas, the aim is to show how state-of-the-art wireless technology can become an integral part of UK infrastructure, connecting public services and businesses in new ways to realise the full benefits of 5G and advanced connectivity.
The funding is being delivered through the Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP) to level-up digital connectivity in the UK. First announced in June 2023, SIPP aims to help UK local authorities deploy advanced digital infrastructure such as smart lampposts, and support the ambition set out in the UK government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy for people, business and public services across the UK to realise the full benefits of 5G and other advanced wireless connectivity – from economic to environmental growth.
The initiative, a joint programme between the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the Department for Transport, will provide up to £1.5m in funding for six local authority-led pilots, which will be matched by smart service providers working with the participating local authorities to procure and test innovative, smart multi-purpose columns or lampposts. Such products are regarded as having the capacity to deliver a range of smart services, including improved mobile network connectivity, public Wi-Fi, electric vehicle charging, public safety and environmental monitoring.
The successful pilots will match government funding for the programme, receiving a total investment of over £4m to help boost local connectivity. The UK government will provide £1.3m, while the local authorities will invest a further £2.7m, designed to deliver better services in communities.
The six authorities which will now receive government funding through SIPP are Cambridgeshire County Council (£220,000); Tees Valley Combined Authority (£202,500); Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (£245,700); Westminster City Council (£165,000); Oxfordshire County Council (£250,000); and North Ayrshire Council (£242,765).
Nick Johnson, head of the UK Telecoms Innovation Network, said: “This announcement from SIPP is a significant update in the UK’s move to improve digital connectivity across the country. The UK Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy sets out a clear vision for how advanced wireless infrastructure plays an ever-increasing part in the UK’s economy and society by 2030.
“A critical part of this centres around the need to identify and break down barriers to deployment at a local level. These pilots are an important part of the innovation process, considering the practical ways in which local authorities can efficiently deliver better connectivity to their communities.”
Julian David, CEO of digital technology trade association techUK, said: “[This] announcement is a welcome step from the UK government in putting wireless connectivity at the heart of local infrastructure deployment. We must empower more local authorities so that they can foster the greater use of advanced connectivity in their areas, helping unlock growth and innovation across the whole of the UK … We must give consumers the confidence to switch to electric vehicles to help overcome ‘range anxiety’, one of the major factors preventing greater uptake of EVs.”