LONDON (Reuters) - Britain set an ambition to deliver next-generation 5G mobile coverage to populated areas by 2030 and said there was "no magic number" of network operators required to ensure a competitive market.
All four of Britain's mobile networks - BT's EE, O2, owned by Telefonica and Liberty Global's Virgin Media O2, Vodafone and Three - are rolling out 5G. Some 77% of the population can now access basic 5G coverage from at least one provider.
Britain said it wanted the next iteration of 5G - called standalone 5G or 5G Plus - to be widely available by the end of the decade, helping to unlock new technologies like driverless vehicles, robots and drones.
Vodafone and Three are in merger talks, which if successful would reduce the number of networks to three. Both companies have said allowing them to combine would help underpin network investment.
The government said on Tuesday it had "reconfirmed that there is no magic number of mobile operators, whilst noting all decisions on consolidation are for the Competition and Markets Authority".
It said it would invest 40 million pounds ($50 million) in an innovation fund to promote adoption of 5G by businesses and public services.
($1 = 0.8057 pounds)
(Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Kate Holton)