Forget FTTC, G.fast, FTTH/P and other forms of fixed line “fibre broadband” connectivity. According to a new report from mobile operator O2, the economic benefits of future 5G based Mobile Broadband technology will overtake “fibre” by 2026.
At this stage it’s perhaps a touch premature to be boasting about 5G becoming a wonder drug for UK digital connectivity, particularly as the technology is still very much in the Research & Development (R&D) stage and regulators have yet to finalise what spectrum it will be able to use. The first commercial deployments aren’t expected to surface in the UK until around 2020.
Never the less O2, which much like Three UK (here) is also calling on Ofcom to cap BT’s (EE) spectrum ownership in order to stop them dominating the market (Three UK wants a cap of 30% and O2 UK wants it to be set at 35%), has forecast that 5G will overtake “fibre” by 2026 and deliver £7bn of annual economic benefits to the United Kingdom (plus £3b per year through secondary supply chain impacts).
Overall the combined value of 4G and 5G based Mobile connectivity could, it’s claimed, add £18.5 billion to the economy in less than a decade.
Mark Evans, CEO of O2 UK, said:
“Mobile is the invisible infrastructure that can drive the economy of post-Brexit Britain. The future of 5G promises a much quicker return on investment than fibre broadband, and a range of unprecedented benefits: from telecare health applications to smarter cities to more seamless public services.
For individuals, businesses and communities to use mobile connectivity to its full potential, we need to set the right conditions to ensure a competitive and fair mobile marketplace. We need a sophisticated spectrum auction that encourages the quickest and fairest deployment of mobile spectrum, with a regulatory environment that delivers a level playing field for businesses and supports a competitive market for customers.”
The comments are reminiscent of those made in a recent report from Communications Chambers (here), which suggested that focusing on pure ultrafast fibre optic (FTTP/H) connectivity was “backward looking” and that it would instead be better to adopt a more mobile-first approach.
Right now it’s still too early to know how 5G will pan out, although on paper the promises of peak speeds reaching 20Gbps (Gigabits per second) via high frequency radio spectrum in the 6-100GHz bands do sound very attractive.
Certainly there’s a lot of scope for mobile to replace fixed lines, but then we heard something similar before 4G launched and yet Mobile services are still struggling to offer the kind of “unlimited” usage allowances and connection flexibility that Home Broadband users desire. Not to mention issues with price, CGNAT and Traffic Management on some networks.
However the gap is closing and 5G certainly has the potential to deliver much.. much more than 4G. Much will of course depend upon whether any of the major mobile operators are willing to take on fixed line broadband ISPs with comparable packages. This also assumes that the fixed line market would give up without a fight (5G might even encourage more multi-Gigabit FTTH/P connections).
Either way we look forward to seeing what 2026 brings, assuming we haven’t all be wiped out in a nuclear holocaust, starved to death, overrun by a rebellion of highly intelligent Internet cats or been invaded by giant ant creatures from a rogue planet hiding outside our solar system.