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UK Set Ambition to Deliver Standalone 5G to All Populated Areas by 2030

Tuesday, Apr 11th, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 3,152

The UK government (DSIT) has today announced that, as part of the new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy (WIS), they have set out an ambition to “blanket the country with the fastest, most reliable wireless coverage available” – with the plan being for “all populated areas to be covered by ‘standalone’ 5G (5G-plus) by 2030“. The update also includes support for satellite broadband in rural areas and more trials of flexi permits.

Historically, the government has always been a bit weak on their targets for 5G mobile. The Conservative’s 2017 manifesto promised “to have the majority of the population covered by a 5G signal by 2027,” which was nonsensically downgraded to 2030 in the Levelling Up Plan (here). We say this because a majority is anything over 50%, which is a very low bar that commercial operators like EE and Three UK have long since met.

NOTE: 77% of the UK’s population already has access to basic 5G from one provider and this is predicted to hit 99% come 2030, but Standalone 5G is a different animal.

At present, existing 5G networks in the UK tend to use Non-Standalone (NSA) hardware and systems, which can still deliver impressive mobile broadband download speeds. But at the same time, they are often hobbled by some dependence upon existing 4G services.

The way to solve this is by moving toward a pure end-to-end 5G network (SA), which will also deliver improvements such as ultra-low latency times (fast), better upload speeds, network slicing capabilities, better support for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, increased reliability and security. O2 (VMO2), EE (BT) and Vodafone are already progressing with trials of this upgrade (example), but it’s a complex and economically tedious upgrade to get right.

In order to support this, the Government has today announced a new investment package worth almost £150 million, with up to £100 million to put the UK at the “forefront of future research” (focused on 6G mobile R&D), and £40m to boost 5G tech take-up. The announcement also commits £8m to delivering “high-speed broadband” (they don’t define that) for up to 35,000 of the UK’s most remote properties.

Under the new scheme, homes and businesses in the most remote areas that are unable to be connected to gigabit-capable broadband will be given funding to link them up to satellites orbiting the globe, giving them a broadband connection that will be up to ten times faster than what is currently available to them. Hopefully this also supports new LEO networks, such as Starlink and possibly OneWeb. But the monthly rentals for Starlink are still too expensive for many people and we’re still waiting to see what sort of solutions OneWeb can deliver to communities.

Technology Secretary, Michelle Donelan, said:

“Our Wireless Infrastructure Strategy sets out our plan to ensure everyone, no matter where they live, can reap the benefits of improved connectivity. We are doing this by ensuring all populated areas in the UK will be served by what I call ‘5G-plus’ technology by 2030. We are also committing £8m to provide satellite connectivity for our most remote communities so that no one is left behind.

We are also supporting long term economic growth in the UK with a £40m fund to encourage innovative 5G investment across the private and public sector. This will help industries transform at a time when the ways we communicate, work and do business are on the precipice of significant evolution.

This package of measures turbocharges our progress towards becoming a science and tech superpower with a substantial initial investment in the future of telecoms. We want to ensure that 6G is developed to meet the needs of people and businesses right across the UK and bolster our international competitiveness throughout the economy.”

Howard Watson, BT Group Chief Security and Networks Officer, said:

“We welcome the new ambition being set for nationwide standalone 5G. Meeting this goal can only be delivered if significant new private sector investment is unlocked, which will require delivery of ambitious policy reform. We look forward to working with Government to tackle the important issues set out in this Strategy, in particular modernising net neutrality rules to ensure content providers are incentivised to use networks efficiently.”

To help the mass adoption of 5G across the country, the strategy further “sets out a clear pro-investment framework” for mobile network operators by driving down deployment costs and improving demand. The Government has also reconfirmed that there is no ‘magic number’ of mobile operators, whilst noting all decisions on consolidation are for the Competition and Markets Authority (this could perhaps be taken as a hint that they may allow Three UK to merge with Vodafone).

In addition, the Government are also putting in place new plans to speed up the deployment of faster internet connectivity through work with the local authorities and the telecoms industry, which is a reference to further trial the use of flexible permits for roadworks to install fibre in several areas. At present, operators have to obtain a permit for each street where works take place, which creates a significant administrative burden.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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29 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Phil says:

    5G Standalone will be great news but 2030 could delaying further as UK always fall behind!

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      I quite agree, how ever I will add that as usual the target set by the Government is low as always and no doubt the current Government will find a way to lessen the targets over time as they have done above with their Conservative’s 2017 manifesto.

  2. Avatar photo UnitedFoolDumb says:

    Its April 1st everyday in the UK.

  3. Avatar photo aw says:

    and this is the government that said 100% of homes will have fibre by 2025 now is 80%

    1. Avatar photo 4chAnon says:

      To be fair, the speed the that has been seen with the gigabit rollout is massively impressive by global standards. Even if the target was moved back, the pace of our operators is catching us up to countries who’ve been rolling out for longer.

    2. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      80%???? it must be April 1st!

  4. Avatar photo GreenLantern22 says:

    What a load of BS! The UK has one of the worst mobile signal coverage of all Europe (continent not EU). I have driven around Europe extensively and signal there is usually excellent. In the UK there are so many areas without coverage. Just this weekend I was in Chislehurst where there is now no 3G/4G signal at all as the previous cell tower was decommissioned and no approval for a new one was forthcoming. Too many NIMBYs.
    And on top of the existing 3G/4G problems how is 5G supposed to help with its weaker signal coverage and all the covid linked conspiracy theories? It will never happen. 5G will never exist outside of well populated areas.

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      Well for one, the closure of 3G will mean the frequencies used can be refarmed for 4G and 5G which ought help with coverage so speeding this up to be completed by the end of this year will help.

      The other thing that will help is a overhaul of planning rules which some councils and nimby residents use to deny upgrades to existing infrastructure or new infrastructure as quite a few are turned down on dodgy grounds such as it will reduce house prices, it’s a eyesore or well we don’t need it so screw everyone else etc…

      Even Germany back in 2011 had solid 4G coverage deep underground on the U Bahns in Berlin and Hamburg yet 2023, London is only now just catching up so yes, I agree with you that the UK is a embarrassment to the world and we’re more a third world country.

    2. Avatar photo Ranting randy says:

      lol no it doesn’t. and your little fake anecdote is of no consequence. next time, come back with stats that prove your point. You can’t because you just made it up.

    3. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      totally, I know of 6 area’s around where I live with no signal and I’m not at all rural. Its just there is a total lack of interest in improving the current coverage.

  5. Avatar photo 4chAnon says:

    I’m pretty sure that 5G SA could be rolled out faster than that, providing there’s a list of incentives; off the top of my head: end the fibre tax, bring back the super-deduction, remove the right for councils to acknowledge any feedback that has ulterior motives (i.e. someone who writes “it also detracts from the local area” after ranting about 5G being unsafe, wouldn’t even have their local area comment considered).

  6. Avatar photo Martin says:

    While local councils are allowed to be a pain in the neck about planning permission, this target will not be met.

    If governments are serious about this target, then councils need sorting out.

    1. Avatar photo Jack says:

      Absolutely spot on Martin.

      What would be good to see where provider(s) repeatedly refused permission to then tell the council they will be withdrawing services from that area, I’m pretty sure customers would put pressure on the council who would do a U turn.

      Of I don’t think any provider would take that gamble but it would be effective last chance option

    2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Ah, so you want Mobile network providers to be able to put their masts where ever they want? Would you want one of these things right outside your window so when you look outside all you see is the mast? I doubt you would, and that is why we still need planning permission for these masts. But no doubt the government will bend over backwards for these mobile network companies. money talks at the end of the day.

      i think so far we have had four masts refused around here, all four being Hutchinson. Plenty of places that have masts already, use them,

    3. Avatar photo Rob says:

      “right outside your window ”

      don’t see anything wrong with that, would get a great signal

    4. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      @Rob, umm, let me think about that.

      Umm, nope, I think I will pass. Anyway, they could not build one outside my window, it would have to have a tiny footprint.

      As I said, the council have denied planning permission for some, and I think they are on the verge of denying Planning permission for another one.

      As I said before, there are plenty of masts around, use them instead of building more of the things.

    5. Avatar photo Net says:

      Exactly. Govt will use public money on pet projects/ nice little earners for some. Then bam council refuses planning permission for poles. However it does seem like some networks get preferential treatment and have permission granted for poles.

    6. Avatar photo OG says:

      @ad47uk councils are refusing permission even when its not outside someones window.
      There was a H3G refused near a park.. the odd thing is o2 & vodafone have two shared monopoles near the same park at opposite ends & on the same side.

    7. Avatar photo EZmoney says:

      The companies (you can see their names on planning documents) that apply for planning permission (to the councils) on behalf of the four networks get paid regardless of refusal or acceptance.
      It wouldnt surprise me if such companies make a few applications where they know there is zero chance of a monopole being accepted by the council at said location.

  7. Avatar photo Build back eventually says:

    lol 2030. we’ll be on 6G by then.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      The commercial 6G rollout is expected to begin around 2028-30, but a lot of the infrastructure built for 4G and 5G (new masts etc.) should make for a faster rollout with 6G.

    2. Avatar photo Anon says:

      That’s funny, the rate that standalone 5G is being rolled out, I can’t see 6G being rolled out any time before 2035.

    3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Will it be more reliable than 5G?

  8. Avatar photo Phil says:

    I would think 6G rolled out by 2040! UK always behind but wait councils might refused 5G/6G as always is.

    1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

      knowing how much a success the next best thing is, they’ll probably hamstring this instances 5G Stand alone roll-out and cut more corners to make it cheaper. By 2030 the 6g marketing shills will be touting that as the next best thing which will more than likely then steal bandwidth from the current pretend 5G NSA system.

  9. Avatar photo Lee says:

    I think we should probably worry more about getting 4G rolled out to all populated areas. There are still enormous chunks along rail corridors, even passing through smaller towns, where there’s barely a 2G signal.

    1. Avatar photo 4chAnon says:

      Solutions for this are currently being looked into, across the rail network. Along Avanti and South Western Railway rail-5G is being rolled out by FirstGroup.

      It’s a collection of small cells next to the tracks, hopefully they straight away go with 5G SA since there’s no existing track-side infrastructure. Should also in theory help out a fibre rollout via dark fibre? But I’m not too sure about that.

  10. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    Looks like the UK Government found another way to syphon off some funding into their own pockets and those of companies MP’s have shares in then…. Honestly, “Out of touch” doesn’t do them justice!

    1. Avatar photo AB says:

      This is what is really holding the UK back.

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