Author - Alex Mather

DCF Report: The Investment Gap to Full 5G Rollout

The UK is at risk of failing to reap the full benefits of 5G according to a new report published today by the Digital Connectivity Forum, the leading advisory body to UK Government on connectivity. 

The report, The Investment Gap to Full 5G Rollout, written in collaboration with Frontier Economics, examines the capacity of network operators to invest in new high-capacity, high-speed wireless 5G services. 

It finds that the industry can invest approximately £9 billion in new network infrastructure by 2030. It also finds that even this substantial investment falls some way short of the cost of delivering full 5G – estimated by the report to be an additional approximately £23-25 billion. 

The report finds that only this greater level of investment can deliver transformative new services dependent on 5G, such as autonomous vehicles, automated logistics and telemedicine.  

The report also sets out a range of recommendations, from direct support to industry to regulatory and structural reform, which would assist in closing this predicted investment gap and ensuring that the full potential benefits of 5G are realised. 

The full report can be read here.

Alex Mather, Head of the Digital Connectivity Forum said: 

“If you are using a newer smartphone or tablet in many of the UK’s bigger towns and cities, there’s a high chance that you’re already making use of high-speed, high-capacity 5G. The sector is already re-investing these revenues in more locations and more capacity. 

“But 5G isn’t just faster 4G – it has the ability to unlock innovative new uses and technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to advanced remote medical services. These technologies have the potential not only to increase the productivity of the nation and boost UK competitiveness, but also to improve the quality of services that the Government provides. 

“Our research finds that there is a real risk of these revolutionary benefits not being realised. To make a reality of the Government’s levelling up agenda, to boost productivity, growth and competitiveness requires action. We therefore encourage the Government and industry to work together to ensure that intensive and timely investment is delivered.”

Introducing the Digital Connectivity Forum

The Digital Connectivity Forum has launched today. The Forum (or DCF) brings together the biggest players in telecoms infrastructure and content creation aligned to a new vision and mission for the UK’s leading advisory body to government on digital connectivity. The Forum will build upon the work of the Broadband Stakeholder Group with a refreshed identity, vision and mission to actively address the transformed connectivity value chain.

With a redefined vision to ensure the UK has an economy and society empowered by seamless digital connectivity, the Forum has been created after extensive discussion among sponsor members and non-members. In late 2021 and early 2022, the Digital Connectivity Forum Executive convened groups of network operators, equipment manufacturers, ISPs, content producers, broadcasters, business groups, government, regulators and representatives of civil society.

The result is a revamped expert body, with an expanded remit proactively to promote seamless connectivity throughout the UK.  We look forward to working across the entire sector value chain and alongside government and regulators. Together with the existing focus on digital infrastructure, the new Digital Connectivity Forum will develop a distinct technology neutral work programme, concentrating on content demand and network design.

Stephanie Liston, Chair of the Digital Connectivity Forum, said:

“The last two decades have seen a dramatic transformation in the UK’s digital eco-system. Consumers and businesses today enjoy a huge number of internet-enabled services delivered over a variety of networks. Working with industry, government and others we are today launching the Digital Connectivity Forum with an expanded and ambitious agenda to meet the challenges and exploit the opportunities of the next 20 years.”

Alex Mather, Head of the Digital Connectivity Forum, said:

“In the 21 years since the Broadband Stakeholder Group was first formed, the UK has gone from dial-up internet to surging gigabit availability, 5G, satellite and other technologies. In 2001, getting broadband Britain up and running was the focus.  Today, the ambition is seamless, universal digital connectivity, across all technologies and industry sectors. The new Digital Connectivity Forum has a crucial role in realising this greater ambition.  We look forward to proactively engaging with government to advise and inform their policy decisions.”

“As the range and diversity of services delivered via the internet has ballooned, the relationship between infrastructure and content has become more central. We want to deliver a new focus on content and distribution while continuing to facilitate discussions on delivery of better infrastructure. New working groups for each will help us to address this challenge.”

Telecoms industry agrees to new cost-of-living plan

The UK’s biggest broadband and mobile operators have agreed to a raft of new commitments to further help customers with the rising cost of living following a government-led summit at No 10 Downing Street.

These include measures such as allowing customers struggling with bills to move to cheaper packages without charge or penalty, or agreeing manageable payment plans, and options to improve existing low cost offers and increasing promotion of existing deals.

The measures, put forward by the government in consultation with the industry, will ensure people struggling with bills due to the economic aftermath of the pandemic and war in Ukraine can continue to make calls, send texts and get online. More information is available here.

New Digital Strategy unveiled

Minister for Tech and the Digital Economy Chris Philp has launched the government’s Digital Strategy aimed at making the UK “a global tech superpower”. Among the document’s commitments are welcome restated goals for gigabit broadband, 4G availability and rural connectivity, although the existing 5G target may need an upgrade. It is interesting to note that the Strategy now defines the 2030 gigabit coverage target as being ‘at least 99%’ – previously this had been described as ‘nationwide’.

Another welcome feature of the Strategy is its focus on investment, although it would have been good to see digital infrastructure alongside start-ups and scale-ups. Digital infrastructure, so vital for the rest of government’s ambitions, needs huge investment ahead of consumer demand.

Alongside the Digital Strategy, the government also published and/or updated a number of other related policy statements. These included the Data Strategy and the Plan for Digital Regulation.