October 24, 2022

Enabling Growth Through 5G - Getting the Framework Right

The Government says connectivity, specifically 5G, is an enabler of economic growth. I agree. Mobile connectivity is a fundamental foundation of today’s society. The question that needs to be asked is whether the Government has the right policy and regulatory framework to incentivise investment in this critically important sector. Further, is the Government ready to direct public investment to stimulate growth, especially in rural areas where market economics are most challenging, or to narrow a growing investment gap between the Government’s 5G policy ambitions and the industry’s demand projections?  

Everything we do is increasingly connected. The average monthly data use of a typical mobile customer in 2013 was less than 500MB, but in 2021 this had risen to 4.3GB, and on Three’s network this year, that figure stood at an astonishing 19GB. Ofcom states that mobile data traffic is growing on average by 40% yearly and forecasts that it will multiply 20 times over the next ten years. We agree.  

Nor is mobile connectivity simply about mobile phones. Much of the growth that will drive data usage and capacity and use the ultra-fast and low latency capabilities of 5G will be machines communicating with machines, or what is known as the Internet of Things. Globally hundreds of billions of these devices will connect to mobile networks, enabling remote working, drone medicine and package delivery, remote surgery, connected vehicles, augmented and virtual reality and much more. Key, however, to all of this is the ability of connectivity to increase efficiencies, drive down costs, increase competition and spur growth.    

The right strategy to build the necessary infrastructure is essential. The Government took bold decisions to accelerate the fixed market with impressive results driven by the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review. But now it must do the same for mobile through the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, which presents the perfect opportunity to drive policy and regulation to accelerate investment and speed up the 5G deployment across the UK.  

The challenge is big. Mobile revenues remain flat, costs are rising due to inflation and instability in energy markets, big tech continues to capture the lion’s share of value, and compliance costs due to the need to remove high-risk vendors have delayed deployment while inflating costs. The Digital Connectivity Forum’s recent report suggests that there could be an investment gap between matching customer demand and achieving advanced 5G capabilities of more than £10 billion, in addition to the huge sums the MNOs are already investing in extending coverage, enhancing their networks, and continuing to offer globally competitive low prices.  

To maintain investment levels and narrow the investment gap, the Government must grab this moment with both hands.  

There are several levers, both policy and regulatory, that the Government could and should employ and which will help narrow the investment gap and speed up network deployment:  

  • Planning reform – Further streamlining the planning system is the quickest way to accelerate investment and deployment in this critical infrastructure and to ensure reform is ahead of the technological curve and not behind, as with 3G and 4G.  
  • Digital Champions – Providing central Government funding to establish local authority Digital Champions is a highly cost-effective way of navigating internal complexities at the local level, streamlining relations between the industry, breaking down barriers, and unlocking investment by the industry.  
  • National and local leadership for mobile connectivity – Central Government needs to be a better cheerleader about why connectivity is so important while working closely with local Government to help explain this to residents and businesses and to combat negative perceptions and misunderstandings  
  • Remain firm and push forward legislation supporting mobile infrastructure, recognising it as Critical National Infrastructure – Legislation such as the Product Security and Telecoms Infrastructure Bill needs to move to the statute book quickly to provide certainty to the industry and to ensure deployment costs are sustainable. Additionally, legislation from now on must support mobile rollout as for other critical infrastructure such as utilities.    
  • Review the net neutrality regulations – Regulations around net neutrality must be updated to reflect how modern networks are used and operated to enable mobile operators to retain value and further incentivise innovation and investment.  
  • Provide a longer-term spectrum pipeline - Spectrum availability is central to ensuring network capacity meets customers’ data needs. Mid band (6GHz) will be hugely significant for 5G investment plans and making it available to mobile is central to combatting congestion in urban areas and the wider economy. Relying on mmWave spectrum to meet the needs of the networks is not technically or commercially viable.    
  • Opening the discussion for public investment to bridge the 5G investment gap –Government must prioritise public investment in 5G, recognising it offers significant public value and can provide comparable results in stimulating private investment to that already achieved in the fixed sector.  

The mobile network operators share the Government’s ambition for growth and to place the UK at the top of global rankings for 5G connectivity. Our networks will underpin economic growth, but the investment environment must be favourable to achieve this. The measures above will help achieve this, and the Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy comes at a critical time.  

The opportunity to act is now!

This blog has been written by Mobile UK's own Director of Policy and Communications, Gareth Elliott.

About Building Mobile Britain

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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.

See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain

Media Contacts

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

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