Industry body techUK has warned that the government must prioritise the rollout of fibre and 5G infrastructure if it is to achieve its plan for nationwide economic growth.
The organisation made the claim in a report assessing the impact of the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) since it was published four years ago.
The FTIR proposed a major package of regulatory changes, public funding and new legislation to bring full fibre connectivity to the entirety of the UK by 2023.
UK 5G rollout
Although that headline target will not be achieved, techUK said the review established a policy framework that “unleashed” private investment in fibre to the tune of £33.2 billon. Accordingly, coverage has increased from 6% to 41% - a sign that the right policy framework was in place.
However, it said the focus should now be on delivery, calling on the government to reduce any friction to rollout so coverage can be extended even further.
Openreach plans to reach 25 million properties by 2025, while Virgin Media O2 looking to roll out FTTP across its infrastructure by 2028 and find a partner for a joint-venture that will connect a further seven million properties by 2027. CityFibre’s target is 8 million by 2025.
The pace of 5G deployment was given a more mixed review by the report. Although operators have made significant progress in speed and coverage, the report urged further policy reform and government support that will build on R&D efforts and on the results of publicly funded 5G testbeds.
This assessment would appear to echo similar warnings from the government’s own advisory board that the UK risks harnessing the full benefits of 5G without further investment. The Digital Connectivity Forum says the total amount that can be invested by industry on new network infrastructure between now and 2030 is £9 billion – leaving a shortfall of up to £25 billion.
Among techUK’s recommendations are a specific visa targeting telecoms workers (the government has already indicated it may relax such restrictions), identification of public sector use cases for 5G and fibre, and a planning regime that makes it easier to build mobile infrastructure – especially small cells that will densify coverage for the most advanced 5G applications
“It’s great to see the progress made by the UK’s telecoms sector since the FTIR was published in 2018 – there has been positive progress in the face of significant challenges, and broadly it was the right framework,” said Matthew Evans, Director for Markets at techUK.
“But in analysing the FTIR’s recommendations, our members have found that more is to be done. Barriers persist, and techUK looks forward to working with both government and Ofcom on smoothing the friction that remains for rolling out fibre and full 5G.”
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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.