Gigabit Broadband and 5G could Jumpstart UK Economy £51.4bn

The report makes six policy recommendations to deliver ‘Gigabit Britain’ by 2025

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Delivering gigabit connectivity to every corner of Britain could provide more than a £50bn economic boost in the next five years, according to a new report by Assembly Research.

The report, commissioned by Huawei, highlights the importance of the Government’s plan to deliver gigabit-capable broadband to the whole of the UK by 2025 and the need for greater connectivity to drive the economy forward. The industry, encouraged by the regulatory direction and legislative proposals so far, stands ready to support this.

Over the past few years, the UK has made significant progress, in both mobile and fixed connectivity, but in full-fibre coverage the company lags behind. Other countries that have already achieved impressive coverage of gigabit-capable broadband, such as those in Asia but also France and Spain, can provide valuable lessons that UK policymakers can learn from around the so called ‘enablers’.

A 12-month delay to achieving the 2025 goal of full coverage of gigabit-capable broadband would mean the UK misses out on £9.7bn of productivity benefits. A two-year delay would see the UK miss out on £28.7bn.

To successfully reach the 2025 target, the report says UK policymakers should consider six recommendations: 

  1. Build on the significant progress there has been with commercial rollout and enabling regulatory environment and maintain this momentum;
  2. Ensure sufficient funding exists for non-commercial areas if the whole country is to be covered and nobody is to be left behind;
  3. A commitment to a technology neutral approach to reach the hardest parts of the country on time and in a cost-effective way;
  4. Supporting market entry and expansion by alternative network operators, but recognising competition will vary by geography;
  5. Making the cost of deployment as low as possible by addressing remaining barriers, which both increase costs and cause delays; and
  6. Ensure the demand side is given more attention to encourage take-up and help lower investment risk.

Matthew Howett, Principal Analyst & Founder of Assembly, said:

“Access to reliable, future-proof digital infrastructure for all isn’t a luxury, but now accepted as a necessity whether it’s used for work, education or play. Increasing investment in key digital infrastructure will provide the bounce-back and economic recovery the UK will desperately need in the months and years ahead.”

At present the Government plans to invest an extra £5bn to ensure that 1Gbps capable broadband (via full fibre, cable / DOCSIS, 5G etc.) can reach every UK home by the end of 2025. On top of that they’re also investing £500m to help 4G mobile operators expand their geographic coverage to 95% by around the same date.

Victor Zhang, Vice President of Huawei, said:

“We are committed to supporting our customers as they build better infrastructure for the UK. It’s now more vital than ever to focus on delivering the high-speed digital networks. Having been a key player and supplier to Britain’s telecoms sector since 2001, we stand ready to play our part in the industry’s future.”

The gigabit plan was previously laser focused upon fostering “full fibre” delivery, although that was more recently watered-down. However 2025 is still going to be a very difficult target to hit and that could be a problem. According to Assembly Research, a 12-month delay to achieving the 2025 goal of full gigabit coverage would mean the UK misses out on £9.7bn in productivity benefits, which rises to £28.7bn with a 2 year delay.

Alex Blowers, Director of Regulation at CityFibre, said:

“The COVID-19 crisis has proven beyond doubt that the country needs world class digital infrastructure. As we rebound from the crisis, it will be more important than ever to have a coherent plan to deliver ubiquitous full fibre coverage. The good news is that the basic building blocks required – an increasingly competitive market structure, and the necessary funds for investment – are in place. But our investors still need to see the policy and regulatory measures put in place to support that competitive fibre investment. It is particularly important that Ofcom rapidly resumes its work to put in place a pro-competition, pro-investment regulatory strategy.”

Huawei has a vested interest in this as they’re a key supplier of both fixed line and mobile related broadband kit to UK telecoms operators and ISPs, something that has recently been cast into some doubt due to concerns over security and the adoption of a stricter policy by the UK Government.

Catherine Colloms, Director of Corporate Affairs & Brand for Openreach, said:

“Achieving the Government’s ambitions for broadband will need a massive effort, significant investment from the private sector, and a faster build rate than virtually any other country has achieved. It’s a big ask, and it needs decisive and coordinated action across Government, the regulator and the wider telecoms industry to make it a reality. There has already been some progress on removing barriers, but action is needed to improve access rights for apartment blocks, make street works simpler and remove business rates on full fibre. Network builders need the right conditions to invest and the right policies to encourage a fast, efficient build.”

Stephen Lerner, General Counsel and Director of Regulatory Affairs at Three UK, said:

“To stay in the 5G race, the UK needs to make it easier to deploy 5G technology. We think the Government proposals are a good start, and we encourage them to go further by cutting unnecessary red tape around local planning approvals for 5G equipment. The coronavirus situation has highlighted the importance of mobile services to the country and we would welcome further changes to the Electronic Communications Code to give us quicker site access to support mobile services. All together, these reforms would speed up the roll out of 5G and allow UK consumers to enjoy the full benefits of 5G sooner.” ​

David Rodman, Executive Director of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs at Virgin Media, said:

“Virgin Media will bring next-generation speeds to our entire network by the end of 2021. By investing private capital to upgrade and expand our network, we will help the Government to achieve half of its broadband ambition four years ahead of its 2025 deadline. The question now is how we get the other half of the country connected. The Government and Ofcom both need to have long-term focus and commitment to ensure the right environment exists for significant advancements to be made. Virgin Media would like to see the business rates environment change to reflect broadband policy so that gigabit-capable connections are not taxed; new build and MDU legislation strengthened; better collaboration between Government departments on street works guidance and finally a commitment to ensure any future consumer regulation does not negatively impact the expansion of gigabit networks. Lots of progress has been made but more must be done to turn broadband ambition into reality.”

Gigabit Britain Full Report

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