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Report Recommends Changes to Boost UK 5G and Gigabit Broadband

Thursday, January 20th, 2022 (10:05 am) - Score 2,568
Gigabit shiny bubble sign with shadow on white background

A new report produced by property consultants Cluttons and polling firm YouGov, which surveyed 103 UK MPs, 577 councillors, 101 IT decision markets and 1,996 citizens, has highlighted various problems that could obstruct the move to adopt 5G mobile and gigabit-capable (1Gbps+) broadband ISP connections.

For example, only 25% of citizens believe gigabit broadband “provides enough benefit to warrant them upgrading“, while just 34% of MPs are confident that the United Kingdom can meet its coverage targets (this may be coloured by political divisions between parties) and the majority of local authorities say they lack the funding needed to help champion connectivity.

Meanwhile, only 30% of MPs are confident they “know the difference between fibre and Gigabit bandwidths” – this is poorly expressed because “fibre” is not defined (and that may be part of the wider problem), while only a third of consumers said they understand 5G mobile and its benefits.

Today around 65% of UK premises can already access a gigabit-capable broadband network. The government’s £5bn Project Gigabit programme aims to push this up to 85% by the end of 2025 and then, possibly, reaching universal coverage by the end of 2030 (here).

As for mobile coverage, Ofcom recently found that 5G is available from at least one mobile operator in the vicinity of around 42-57% of UK premises (here). The UK Government has previously said they wanted 5G to reach a “majority” of the population by 2027, but that has always been an exceptionally weak goal because, politically speaking, a majority could today be said to reflect anything over 50%.

John Gravett, partner at Cluttons, says:

“Having the right level of connectivity across the UK is crucial for the Government’s levelling up agenda, as well as economic performance, jobs, skills and social equity. The Government is currently targeting 85% technology neutral gigabit broadband coverage for the UK by 2025.

In our opinion, we estimate that we are three to five years behind this goal and our research raises concerns that we will fall further behind given the lack of confidence by MPs in delivering the targets set. Moreover, the lack of understanding of connectivity not just by consumers but in Government itself is very concerning and this could further hold back critical infrastructure development.”

Gareth Elliott, Director of Policy and Communications of Mobile UK, said:

“The UK Government views digital connectivity as vital for the nation’s future prospects. It has set a target of delivering 5G to the majority of the population by 2027. In turn, it is in the process of proposing changes to laws which will help speed up network deployment and increase coverage, reforms which, according to this survey, are supported by 63% of MPs to speed up gigabit rollout.

Indeed 78% of local councillors support further broadband and mobile infrastructure and equipment being installed in their local areas – we know 5G is vital to levelling up the UK.

Despite this acknowledgment of its importance, the report’s findings show just over a third (37%) of councillors are not aware of any explicit strategy for the development of digital infrastructure in their local authority. Nearly three fifths (56%) stated that their council has not assigned a dedicated role of Digital Connectivity Champion or similar.

Without a responsible coordinator or person with the relevant expertise and skills councils are often not set up to undertake effective digital strategies or build relationships with telecommunications providers. It is therefore unlikely to be surprising to those on the ground that less than a quarter of councillors believe their local authorities’ relationship with telecommunications providers is effective.

All of this highlights digital connectivity as vital for UK’s future prospects. However, much more needs to be done to deliver these ambitions at ground level. We believe the government needs to fund and empower local authorities to each have a dedicated champion with the skills and responsibilities needed to coordinate local strategies. Action needs to be taken now if we are to reach national targets and harness the positive impact which will be felt by a better-connected Britain..”

Mr Gravett claims to “estimate that we are three to five years behind” the gigabit-capable broadband coverage target, although this doesn’t appear to be backed up by any scientific modelling of network coverage plans in the report. Commercial operators alone are widely expected to push this figure up to around 80%, and getting to 85% still looks achievable by 2025, but much will depend upon how fast Project Gigabit moves and the ability of suppliers to actually deliver. As for 5G, the coverage target is so weak as to be largely irrelevant, but anything that can help spread faster mobile broadband is usually a good thing.

Naturally, the new report proposes a series of recommendations to help improve the situation, which appears to be largely focused upon increasing adoption and awareness of the new technologies. Most of this is fairly familiar territory, which has previously been recommended by other studies (e.g. GigaTAG) or even the government itself.

Report Recommendations

➤ NATIONAL GIGABIT PROVISION MUST BE UNIVERSAL

It is clear from our research that rural areas risk lagging when it comes to digital connectivity. The Government’s £5 billion Project Gigabit will help support rollout in hard- to-reach areas. Progress includes the £1bn Shared Rural Network project, which aims to extend geographic 4G coverage to 95% of the UK by the end of 2025 and may also help with 5G.

In areas where no operator has plans to deploy gigabit capable internet connections the government must intervene to incentivise investment. The UK has some very remote places where it may be too expensive to build networks, even with substantial public subsidy. Here, the Government must explore innovative new technologies such as low-orbit satellites and high altitude platforms, which might be used to beam faster connections to homes and businesses.

➤ BARRIERS TO ROLLOUT MUST BE REMOVED

The government must implement proposed changes to planning and the Electronic Communications Code at pace. Industry and lobby groups should keep up pressure where they believe amendments need to be more ambitious, or where the Government lack of momentum in implementing change.

The telecoms sector must ensure that it is taking maximum advantage of the Government’s skills and retraining offering (for example, the Apprenticeship Levy) and Government must engage with industry to make sure its Point- Based immigration system is bringing in enough groundworkers and engineers while domestic talent is trained.

➤ LOCAL AUTHORITIES ARE CRUCIAL

Our research shows that local authorities have a vital role to play in getting the UK connected (05 Local inaction). They must have access to the information and funding they need to prioritise the importance of digital connectivity in their local areas, including advice on how to collaborate with charities to reach vulnerable and potentially left behind groups.

We support GigaTAGs recommendation that ‘Toolkits’ should be developed by Government and disseminated to local authorities. These kits should contain information on the benefits of better connectivity, as well as the resources and campaigning materials needed to raise awareness and uptake of gigabit services locally. The government should consider putting funding in place to support these campaigns.

➤ DIGITAL CHAMPIONS MUST BE ASSIGNED

Our research indicates that local authorities with digital strategies in place are more positive about the future of digital connectivity than those without. We therefore recommend government explores the opportunity to fund a digital champion in each local authority.

Such champions are able to support and execute digital strategies, act as a go- to experts on digital connectivity and coordinate connectivity improvements. They can liaise with industry as well as with local businesses and residents to ensure they have the right connections for their needs—and they can work with different teams within their organisation to ensure that connectivity is a priority.

➤ AWARENESS RAISING ACTIVITIES ARE REQUIRED

Our research highlights a lack of understanding amongst consumers and businesses when it comes to the benefits of gigabit broadband and 5G mobile. It is therefore imperative that Ofcom and industry progress the development of common terminologies to describe broadband and mobile services and create use cases that can be used by providers when marketing them.

Government should consider undertaking nationwide awareness- raising activities, using multiple platforms to reach citizens and businesses with information about the benefits of upgrading to gigabit capable connections.

➤ NO SOCIAL STRATA SHOULD BE LEFT BEHIND

Providers are taking some steps to tackle affordability barriers negatively impacting take-up of broadband and mobile data. Ofcom must continue to monitor affordability issues, including the availability of social tariffs. It is critical that these tariffs are visible to, and taken up by, relevant groups. They should be proactively promoted, provided at reasonable speeds, and offered by more providers than at present.

We support GigaTAG’s recommendation that policy makers should thoroughly review schemes currently in place to aid affordability and identify any additional measures required to help vulnerable people and low-income households access gigabit-capable services.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
5 Responses
  1. Brom Boy says:

    Some councils (like our local council, Bromley) just block just about every application for 5G roll-out because they simply don’t understand the technology. I think a lot of councillors think connectivity happens by magic with a sprinkling of fairy dust.

    1. Poo says:

      Hence why the rollout out of 5g is piss poor pathetic stupid tech illiterate greedy out of touch councillors who couldn’t run a bath .

  2. Bilal says:

    Wow that upload

  3. Paul says:

    Perhaps mobile operators should entirely avoid 5G rollout in areas where the same councils are mass rejecting applications.

    Eventually, distinct noticeable patterns will emerge on coverage maps and serious questions will be asked by MP’s and the press.

    The councils responsible will then be named and shamed for damaging the digital economy.

  4. Buggerlugz says:

    Completely ditching the install of stand-alone and only installing SA 5g is required to improve 5g in the UK.

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