Everyone recognises how essential digital connectivity is for business and consumers. National governments and City authorities the world over want to encourage investment in deploying more fibre, not just into every premise but also to support tomorrow’s 5G networks. In urban areas, those 5G networks will require greater access to street furniture and other assets than previous generations of mobile technology have. However, the initial 5G deployments currently underway in the UK are focusing on adding 5G equipment to existing 4G “macro cell” base stations, because they’re already in place with electricity and fibre, plus the spectrum currently being deployed isn’t optimised for addressing hotspots. London is likely to be the first city that mobile operators will want to offer widespread availability of 5G in, yet London has 33 Local Authorities (plus Transport for London for London’s Strategic Road Network) with differing approaches to making their assets available. An agreed way of working, a more coordinated approach, and visibility to operators of available public assets, would reduce unnecessary delay in rolling out 5G in London.
In light of the Electronic Communications Code and issues around Wireless Concession Models, we need to consider what options are now available to match operators’ planned 5G deployments with the availability of Council assets.
Based on the above, techUK was delighted to work with the GLA on a workshop to bring together Boroughs and telecommunications providers to explore the options for making available Council assets to support potential 5G deployment requirements, and to arrive at an approachable way of working closely together.
Opening the workshop was London’s Chief Digital Officer, Theo Blackwell, who discussed the opportunities that greater connectivity will bring to London cities and businesses as outlined in the London Plan. He highlighted the important role of access to public sector assets and mentioned that the public sector is the largest landowner in all cities.
Throughout the afternoon, presentations were also made by both Boroughs and providers on their experiences and views on the connectivity approach.
The first workshop began by looking at the ways of working. The main discussion in this area were looking to identify examples of good practice, key lessons learnt to date, issues for consideration and practicalities of enabling access to assets.
Common themes of the first workshops for providers was that the information providers are asking for is currently dependent on the request, and that it will go through different teams in the Council. There was agreement that each Borough should identify a senior level Single Point of Contact (SPOC) that providers can go to in each borough, perhaps a Chief Digital Officer able to work across Council teams and drive 5G deployment forwards. For local authorities, there were discussions around creating a database of relevant assets that could be shared across all Boroughs and the importance of mapping out notspots for Boroughs to find out where there is less or no coverage.
Our second workshop discusses horizon scanning, which looks at what an ideal access to assets look like in the future, what is going to be needed for 5G and how do we better align digital transformation. Common themes amongst the tables were that there is a need to know where the fibre and ducting is around London, and there should be shared plans and engagement between providers and local authorities, with strategic views of demand for the city.
From both workshops, both providers and local authorities had similarities in terms of creating a dynamic system that works for all boroughs and providers which includes availability of assets throughout London to benefit the deployment of 5G. techUK is pleased to be working alongside the local authorities and industry on this and look forward to future plans.