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Government must take action now to secure our connected future so we are ready for 5G, and essential services are genuinely available where they are needed – Adonis

The National Infrastructure Commission publishes its report into 5G and telecommunication technology

The National Infrastructure Commission has today (Wednesday) published its final report into 5G and telecommunication technology.

5G means seamless connectivity. Ultra-fast, ultra-reliable, ultra-high capacity transmitting at super low latency. It will support the ever larger data requirements of the existing network and new applications from augmented reality to connected vehicles and the Internet of Things, and many more, as unknowable today as the 4G services we take for granted would have been a decade ago.

In March 2016, the National Infrastructure Commission was asked to consider what the UK needs to do to become a world leader in 5G deployment, and to ensure that the UK can take early advantage of the potential applications of 5G services.

Today, the Commission publishes its findings.

The Commission’s central finding is that mobile connectivity has become a necessity. The market has driven great advances since the advent of the mobile phone but government must now play an active role to ensure that basic services are available wherever we live, work and travel, and our roads, railways and city centres must be made 5G ready as quickly as possible.

This report makes practical recommendations to that end.

Government must take responsibility to secure our digital future, starting with the creation of a strong digital champion backed by a dedicated cabinet minister to drive change.

Government and Ofcom must ensure that essential outdoor mobile services – such as basic talk, text and data - are available wherever we live, work and travel:

  • Britain is 54th in the world for 4G (the typical user can only access 4G 53% of the time), there are too many digital deserts and partial not spots, even within our city centres.
  • Government and Ofcom should develop a meaningful set of metrics to that represent the coverage people actually receive and use these to determine a mobile Universal Service Obligation so that consumers can access essential services where they are needed.
  • Government and Ofcom should deliver this as a soon as is practical but no later than 2025.

Government must ensure the UK is 5G ready:

  • Key Rail Routes: The railway network must rapidly improve connectivity. This is best delivered by a trackside network. Government should provide a plan by 2017, and the infrastructure should be in place on key routes by 2025.
  • Major Roads: Our motorways must have mobile networks fit for the future. The infrastructure should be in place by 2025.
  • Towns and Cities: Local Authorities and LEPs should work with network providers to develop approaches that enable the deployment of the tens of thousands of small cells we expect to need in our urban centres.

Releasing the report, Chair of the National Infrastructure Commission Lord Adonis said,

5G is the future – ultra-fast, and ultra-reliable it has the potential to change our lives and our economy in ways we cannot even imagine today. But the UK is currently languishing in the digital slow lane.

Britain is 54th in the world for 4G coverage, and the typical user can only access 4G barely half the time. Our 4G network is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru. Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not spots where connectivity is impossible. That isn’t just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce.

5G offers us a chance to start again and get ahead. If government acts now we can ensure our major transport networks and urban centres are 5G ready in time to give British industry every chance to lead the world in exploiting its applications.

But none of this will matter unless we bring our mobile network up to speed. The existing system does not provide the level of coverage we will need in our connected future. We need a new universal service obligation which ensures that the mobile essentials – like text, talk and data – are available to us wherever we need them.

From connected vehicles to the internet of things, 5G will support a whole new way of communicating and doing business. The UK must not be left behind.

CONNECTED FUTURE: IN BRIEF

5G means seamless connectivity. Ultra-fast and ultra-reliable, transmitting massive amounts of data at super low latency. It will support the ever increasing requirements of the existing network and new applications as unknowable today as the 4G services we take for granted would have been a decade ago.

Securing the mobile networks necessary to put the UK at the forefront of this emerging technology will be critical to the growth of our economy. This report makes recommendations to make that happen.

The Commission’s central finding is that mobile connectivity has become a necessity. The market has driven great advances since the advent of the mobile phone but government must now play an active role to ensure that basic services are available wherever we live, work and travel, and our roads, railways and city centres must be made 5G ready as quickly as possible.

PART 1: THE MOBILE REVOLUTION

The UK mobile market has transformed from a luxury in the 1980s to an essential today. 93% of adults in the UK own a mobile phone, smartphones have overtaken laptops as internet users’ device of choice, and there are more mobile devices than people.

Yet the UK’s networks are not complete. There are too many digital deserts across the country and the availability of our 4G network is worse than many countries including Albania, Panama and Peru.

PART 2: GOVERNMENT AS A DIGITAL CHAMPION

The market has driven enormous change – but now government must take responsibility to secure our digital future, starting with the creation of a strong digital champion backed by a dedicated cabinet committee. Government must ensure we have the infrastructure in place to deliver 5G across our major centres and transport networks.

Major roads: Our motorways must have roadside networks fit for the future. The infrastructure should be in place by 2025.

Key rail routes: The railway network must rapidly improve connectivity. This will be best delivered in future by a trackside network. Government should provide a plan by 2017, and the infrastructure should be in place on main rail routes by 2025.

Towns and cities: Local Authorities and LEPs should work with network providers to develop approaches that enable the deployment of the tens of thousands of small wireless cells we expect to need in our urban centres.

PART 3: ENABLING THE MARKET TO DELIVER WHAT WE NEED

Government and Ofcom must ensure basic outdoor mobile services are available wherever we live, work and travel.

Regulation must keep pace with the rapid evolution of the mobile communications markets, allowing innovative new firms to provide services that the existing market has not delivered, including potentially to remote and rural communities

Greater connectivity is inevitable and essential. The UK cannot be left behind.

Recommendations in full

Recommendation 1: Digital infrastructure lies at the heart of the UK’s industrial strategy and affects every sector of the economy. To reflect its importance, ultimate government responsibility for digital infrastructure should reside in one place under a single cabinet minister with the authority to shape policy and delivery across government ensuring that it delivers the government’s overarching digital strategy. This work should report to the Economy and Industrial Strategy Cabinet Committee. It should:

  • Identify the public projects that contain a significant element of digital infrastructure and establish and maintain a plan which sets out how they can help deliver the government’s overarching digital strategy and maximise the benefit of better mobile telecommunications for UK citizens and businesses.
  • Hold the various parts of government that are delivering digital infrastructure to account, in order to ensure adequate telecoms network provision in the delivery of its infrastructure programmes.
  • Ensure that when upgrading existing or delivering new infrastructure, such as that alongside our roads and railways, the long term capacity needs of telecoms networks are considered and met. This could include installing more fibre and additional infrastructure to make sure that networks are future-proof. It will also mean ensuring that the networks are readily accessible to communications providers.
  • Be a centre of telecoms expertise within government that supports departments in determining their needs and procuring telecoms infrastructure, and support departments in demonstrating and testing of new, digitally-enabled ways of delivering public services such as education and healthcare.
  • Support and challenge local government in their plans to enable the delivery of digital infrastructure; both in terms of ensuring that these plans help the UK to meet its national objectives, and that local authorities develop consistent approaches to support the deployment of mobile infrastructure across the country.

Recommendation 2: Our motorways must have mobile telecommunication networks fit for the future. It is vital that our motorways are able to meet both the long term operational needs of connected vehicles and the connectivity needs of the passengers. This will necessitate the timely installation of an open and accessible mobile telecommunication and backhaul network that is fit for the future.

The government should set out its plans for how to deliver this by the end of 2017. As part of this work consideration should be given to who is best placed to install, manage, fund and own the network, noting the potential for private sector funding. Ensuring that best use is made of the existing infrastructure, such as masts, poles, ducts power supplies and the fibre network alongside our motorways, so that it can be used to support the backhaul of mobile data will be essential. Ultimately, the government should ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place on motorways by 2025 at the latest if it wants to offer a reasonable level of connectivity on a timescale consistent with the deployment of 5G networks. Ofcom should set out how a regulatory regime would support these different operating models.

Recommendation 3: Rail passengers should have high capacity wireless connectivity. This should be achieved through a delivery model that utilises trackside infrastructure to provide an open and accessible mobile telecommunication and backhaul network that is fit for the future.

The government should set out its plans for how to deliver this by the end of 2017. As part of this work consideration should be given to who is best placed to install, manage, fund and own the network, noting the potential for private sector funding. Ensuring that best use is made of the existing infrastructure, such as masts, poles, ducts power supplies and the fibre network alongside our railways so that it can be used to support the backhaul of mobile data will be essential. Ultimately, the government should ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place on the main rail and key commuter routes by 2025 at the latest if it wants to offer a reasonable level of connectivity on a timescale consistent with the deployment of 5G networks. Ofcom should set out how a regulatory regime would support these different operating models.

Recommendation 4: Local government should actively facilitate the deployment of mobile telecoms infrastructure:

a) Local authorities should work together and with Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to develop coordinated local mobile connectivity delivery plans. These plans should:

  • set out how local authorities and LEPs will enable the deployment of mobile networks and maximise the opportunities and benefits to residents and businesses;
  • be developed in discussion with mobile network operators and infrastructure owners;
  • identify a designated individual with lead responsibility for engaging with mobile telecoms infrastructure providers;
  • consider the role of local government assets and infrastructure, (e.g. land, buildings, roads, street furniture) and help coordinate the role that other public buildings in an area (e.g. hospitals and universities) can play to facilitate the deployment of mobile telecoms infrastructure; and
  • consider how the deployment of digital infrastructure can be established as a priority in local planning policy.

Local authorities and LEPs should report annually to the government department with responsibility for digital infrastructure on their progress delivering against these plans. b) Local models for facilitating the deployment of these networks should be piloted and evaluated to inform national roll-out. Any pilot programme should allow for the evaluation of deployment models in different types of area (e.g. urban, rural, coastal) and in both single-tier and two-tier local government areas. It should also seek to establish how high quality design can minimise the impact of hosted infrastructure on the built environment. Such pilots would be a good use of a proportion of the funding recently announced in the Autumn Statement to support mobile telecoms infrastructure.

Recommendation 5: Government and Ofcom should develop a meaningful set of metrics that represent the coverage people actually receive and use these to determine a mobile universal service obligation setting out the minimum service level people should expect to receive.

a) Ofcom, government and mobile operators should report their coverage so that they are genuine and meaningful reflections of the services enjoyed by customers. Metrics should be measurable and based on the reality of service and coverage provided to customers, not based on simulated or predicted performance. Ofcom should set out how this is best achieved by the end of 2017. Ofcom and government should use these metrics as the basis of future interventions such as spectrum licence obligations or voluntary agreements with operators. Government, Ofcom or the Advertising Standards Authority should take action if operators advertise or report coverage in a way that does not reflect services being delivered to consumers on an everyday basis. b) Mobile services are increasingly viewed as essential, underpinning our daily lives and the digital economy. Government must deliver a view by the end of 2017 on what aspects of mobile services are considered “essential”. It should then establish how this “essential” level of service provision can be made available through a mobile universal service obligation regardless of the network to which a customer is subscribed. Government should engage with Ofcom and industry to establish the best delivery mechanism, whether through spectrum licence obligations, enabling roaming, enabling cross operator Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs), through government procurement or a mix thereof. Government with the assistance of Ofcom should deliver this as soon as is practical but no later than 2025.

Recommendation 6: By the end of 2017 Ofcom and government must review the existing regulatory regime to ensure that it supports the sharing of telecoms infrastructure. This will be particularly important for areas of the country where competition driven markets have struggled to provide the necessary mobile infrastructure.

Recommendation 7: Ofcom and government must ensure they keep pace with the rapid evolution of the mobile communications market, and that the regulatory regime is fit for purpose. By the end of 2017 Ofcom and government must review the regulatory regime to ensure that spectrum allocation and regulatory decisions support a growth model in a world where technology developments enable greater shared access and interoperability. Government and Ofcom should review how unlicensed, lightly licensed spectrum, spectrum sharing and similar approaches can be utilised for higher frequencies to maximise access to the radio spectrum. Spectrum decisions should where possible enable:

  • Community or small provider solutions to meet the needs of local areas if they remain unserved or poorly served.
  • Niche entrants or sub-national players to access the higher frequency spectrum anticipated for 5G. Allocation of nationwide spectrum licenses to a small number of operators could leave large areas of the UK fallow.
  • Businesses, universities and others to access spectrum where they need to within their factories or buildings, including already licensed spectrum if there are no interference risks. This will unlock multiple wireless service provider options, including self-provision, spurring the innovation in industrial internet of things, wireless automation and robotics.