UK 5G Strategy Update

Applications where 5G will have a significant impact.

You may have missed it over the Christmas and New Year break but Ofcom has released a new report entitled ‘Next Generation Mobile Technologies: An update to the 5G strategy for the UK’.

The UK Government is making a lot of noise about their Digital Strategy these days so it was no surprise to see that Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), had written a foreword to the Ofcom Report.

The Government’s 5G strategy, published at Spring Budget 2017, set out the framework and steps that they will take to ensure that the UK is a world leader in the development of 5G mobile networks and services. Currently there is a spectrum bidding ‘log-jam’ which we reported upon in our October issue – any updates on that issue are not reported here.

Strategy in a Nutshell:

The current UK Government strategy is a series of ‘aims’.

  • Accelerate the deployment of 5G networks and ensure that the UK can take early advantage of the applications those networks can enable
  • Maximise the productivity and efficiency benefits to the UK from 5G
  • Create new opportunities for UK businesses at home and abroad, and encourage inward investment

So, what does the new Ofcom report add to this in terms of fleshing out the rhetoric?

Sitting behind these stated strategy aims is the potential size of the global 5G prize – a recent report by IHS Technology estimated 5G will enable USD$12.3 trillion of global economic output in 2035 – the UK Government wants to ensure that the we are at the forefront of 5G developments, so that we can maximise the potential benefits to our economy and citizens.

The Ofcom report confirms there is broad consensus that commercial rollout of 5G in the UK should begin by 2020, with competition likely to drive the mobile market to initially provide enhanced mobile broadband services. The path to the commercialisation of 5G use cases which rely on its other capabilities – particularly those which could be more disruptive – is less clear.

The Government’s 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, working in partnership with industry and others, will help demonstrate the market for 5G services and improve the commercial case for investment.

The Government says it understands that operators are continuing to focus on densifying their existing 4G networks to satisfy increasing demand for data from their customers. As 4G evolves into 5G, they expect that it will be accompanied by a proliferation of small cells in ‘connectivity hotspots’. These small cells will require access to power and to fibre networks for data transport, which is likely to raise a number of challenges, both practical and economic.

The Government has committed to create a UK 5G Innovation Network to operate alongside the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme to provide a significant boost to the development of the UK’s 5G ecosystem. This Innovation Network will be up and running in early 2018 and will be operated by CW, in partnership with the Knowledge Transfer Network and TM Forum following a competitive bid process concluded at the end of last year.

The report also covers plans for road, rail and city coverage but it is in the area of creating the right environment for commercial investment for the underlying infrastructure and services and here the £1 billion new funding earmarked in 2016 for the National Productivity Investment Fund to support the next generation of digital infrastructure in the UK is starting to be used.

In the Autumn Budget 2017 an allocation of £160 million from the Fund for the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme was announced. This included £10 million that will be used to create facilities where the security of networks can be tested and proven, working with the National Cyber Security Service.

No Prisoners…

The UK Government seems intent on meeting the challenges of 5G and to identify and address the barriers that could stand in the way of their aims by setting up a new cross-Whitehall task force, led by DCMS, to drive changes to make it easier for digital infrastructure to be rolled out.

Ed Says…

In the run up to the release of this Ofcom report there had been rumblings in the press that Gavin Patterson, CEO at BT, had stated at a Huawei conference that his company was finding it hard to make the business case for 5G. For the UK to succeed in the digital age we need all the big players on board and there seems to be a lot of politicking going on right now. Whilst this is understandable given the huge commercial investments required and opportunities available, we really do need keep on top of progress. You can download the Ofcom report from their web site.

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David Dungay

Editor - Comms Business Magazine