Mobile News

London’s 5G Challenge – A need for partnership

Gareth Elliott, Head of Policy and Communications at Mobile UK, writes for London First ahead of the London Infrastructure Summit – 12th September 2018

The mobile phone is today an essential tool. Four out of every five of us own a smartphone and more than seven in ten use their mobile to access the internet. And data use is skyrocketing. A recent study found the average customer uses 1.9GB of data each month but by 2025 this is expected to rise to a staggering 90GB.

It’s not just Londoners downloading movies and streaming music; soon autonomous vehicles, health monitoring devices, trains and even lampposts will be communicating with each other.

And with 5G coming soon this demand will require substantial network upgrades and new infrastructure – and fast. Yet London is a complex place to build with a high density of tall buildings, narrow streets and a propensity for mobile signal unfriendly glass and steel. It is also expensive. In fact, London is one of THE most expensive places to build new infrastructure.

Up to 85% of the costs of expanding the digital network in the capital are so-called ‘civil’ costs, such as planning regulations and other red tape. The 32 boroughs and the City of London grant the required planning permissions, but each can have a different interpretation to applying rules and permits. This means the cost of investing in digital in London can vary widely –even across streets, as one borough neighbours another.

Operators might reasonably direct investment to areas that are more digital friendly. For example, Norfolk has pledged to make its assets available under new Electronic Communications Code prices while the Connecting Cambridgeshire initiative was set up to discover and break down barriers to mobile deployment.

We can’t allow London to miss out on investment in its digital future and fall behind its competitors.

But building mobile networks is not the sole responsibility of the mobile network operators. Yes, they build the physical networks but to do so it requires a high level of partnership between many stakeholders. This is all the more important as coverage expectations increase and 5G is expected to be more complex to build than the last.

A more joined-up ambitious approach to delivering London’s world class productivity is needed. There are several key issues to be addressed:

  • Political leadership to drive better access to public-sector property for digital infrastructure and level the playing field with other key public utilities;
  • Standardisation of rules to give operators, business, landlords and developers the documentation they need to deliver digital infrastructure in a fast and effective way;
  • Public intervention to make sure we plug London’s not-stops in area that are commercially unviable; and
  • Leveraging public assets to make them viable places to invest in digital infrastructure.

London’s government, operators and boroughs each have their part to play to improve digital connectivity.

In our new report with London First, Roadmap to 5G: Achieving world class digital connectivity in London, we set the key commitments and responsibilities of each party.

Notes to Editors

  1. Mobile UK is the trade association for the UK’s mobile network operators -  EE, O2, Three and Vodafone.
  2. London First is a business campaigning group with a mission to make London the best city in the world to do business.
  3. The London Infrastructure Summit is London First's annual summit which attracts over 500 delegates, and experts across business, national and London government together with infrastructure providers. Further information can be found here.
  4. The full report Roadmap to 5G: Achieving world class digital connectivity in London can be read here.
  5. Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers. For further information – or #BuildingMobileBritain


Media Contacts
Gareth Elliott
Head of Policy and Communications
Tel: 07887 911 076

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