Budget 2020: No 5G surprises for mobile industry

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Rishi Sunak’s first Budget as Chancellor of the Exchequer failed to yield any surprises for the mobile industry.

Instead, Sunak reiterated previous commitments to make public funding available for broadband deployment in rural areas and the confirmation of a deal reached earlier this week to improve 4G coverage across the country.

The pledges were wrapped up in a wider commitment to invest in the UK’s national infrastructure, alongside a £2.5 billion fund for potholes and spending on railways and roads.

No broadband 'bonanza'

The government first announced plans to make £5 billion available for full fibre rollout at the Conservative party conference in Manchester last September.

The current government target for switching off the UK’s copper network is 2033, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants this brought forward to 2025. The industry has said such an ambitious goal isn’t out of the question – but only if regulations are favourable and government financial support is present.

Meanwhile, the Shared Rural Network (SRN) will see operators share masts in areas of the country that don’t have access to all four networks. Operators will invest £530 million to open up and share their infrastructure, and pay each other a fee for access. The government will then provide up to £500 million to build new masts in ‘total not spots’ where there is no 4G coverage from any operator. The aim is to reach 95 per cent of the UK landmass by 2025.

Despite the government’s enthusiasm for the technology, there was no specific mention of 5G in the Budget documents. Although given recent attempts by Tory party rebels to reverse a decision that allows Huawei to play a role in the UK’s rollout of next-generation networks, perhaps this is unsurprising.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.