Report: Britain 54th in world for 4G coverage

A report from the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission has found that Britain is 54th in the world for 4G coverage, and the typical user can only access 4G barely half the time, with the Commission’s Chairman calling for government to act now to ensure the nation’s 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.

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.

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,” it says.

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,” says the report.

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 per cent 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 described 5G as “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,” he concluded.

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.

The report notes that the UK mobile market has transformed from a luxury in the 1980s to an essential today. Ninety-three per cent 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, it suggests.

 

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