UK calls for communication and cohesion in fibre and 5G

fibre cable 1

Communication, collaboration and a common approach will be key to accelerating the development of fibre and 5G networks in the UK, according to a new government report.

For the most part, the report addresses the role of local authorities in the rollout of gigabit infrastructure, but its conclusions also apply to telecoms operators and network builders.

The report, dubbed ‘Local Authorities as Connectivity Enablers’ produced by consultancy FarrPoint for the Digital Connectivity Forum DCF, an advisory body to the UK government, finds that all stakeholders in fibre and 5G networks must communicate better, and that there remain significant inconsistencies in approach between local authorities when it comes to the deployment of digital infrastructure.

It identifies a number of key areas of consideration, the first – and arguably most important – being communications and engagement. As well as recommendations on the creation of digital champions within local authorities, the report calls for better communication between central and local government, and with planning bodies and telecoms players.

The other areas of focus cover the practical elements of network rollout that involve local authorities and recommendations are around smoother planning processes, roadworks, and site acquisition in cases where the local authorities serve as landlords.

“The report’s recommendations, if fully implemented, would address many of the remaining obstacles local authorities are experiencing with the deployment of digital connectivity,” the Digital Connectivity Forum said.

That’s quite probably the case. But what the report doesn’t really address is what would be the full impact of implementing its recommendations. There isn’t a lot to go on here, other than the rather nebulous claims of accelerated deployment.

Clearly, speed in rollout is a positive thing; the more people that have access to fibre broadband and/or 5G mobile services in as short a timeframe as possible the better. But there’s no real quantifiable impact.

Meanwhile, we can hardly claim that UK network builders are resting on their laurels.

Point Topic this week highlighted the fact that the UK was the third-ranked market in terms of fibre growth in the first quarter of this year in its latest data update, and fibre builders are still popping up across the country. Last week we looked at Wildanet, which has recently expanded its footprint into Devon from Cornwall, and on Monday the UK Infrastructure Bank announced a £250 million debt investment in Telefonica and Liberty Global’s fibre JV Nexfibre which is rolling out full fibre broadband to 5 million homes across the UK by 2026.

On the 5G side the onus is on the mobile operators to roll out network and there are significantly fewer of them, but nonetheless there is still something of a landgrab going on, M&A distractions aside. Doubtless all would benefit from some of the recommendations in the report – it’s available to download here, incidentally – particularly when it comes to siting base stations and so forth. But again, it’s hard to judge just how great any impact would be.

Essentially, there’s a lot of fairly general guidance in the report on how to smooth the way to broader deployment of gigabit infrastructure, and most of it makes a lot of sense, but it’s questionable whether it will help in a meaningful way.


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