NIC finds good progress in rolling out fixed broadband across the UK

The National Infrastructure Commission, which provides government with impartial, expert advice on major long term infrastructure challenges, has published its annual assessment of infrastructure progress in the UK. The Commission has found that the UK is currently on track to meet its target of 85 per cent coverage of gigabit capable networks by 2025, thanks primarily to the commitments of industry in their build plans and rollout completion.

Furthermore, operators’ network deployment plans remain ambitious over the next few years, so government is likely to meet its target of nationwide (99 per cent) coverage by 2030 on current rates of deployment.

In truth, this is one of the few positives the Commission finds in its annual assessment, alongside devolution deals for several city regions which offer them the ability to plan their own infrastructure strategies – but primarily, certain areas have seen little to no progress, or even regression.

But the rollout of fibre is good news story and one to be celebrated. There is a note of caution on take-up rates: “Securing higher take up levels for new broadband networks will be vital in ensuring that firms can make a return on their sizeable investments”.

Mobile making good progress, despite some challenges

The Commission’s Second National Infrastructure Assessment, published last year, focused its two digital infrastructure recommendations on mobile infrastructure, and on the telecoms needs of energy, water and transport sectors. Reflecting on these, and changes over the past 12 months, the Commission has found that:

  • 5G coverage continues to grow
  • While to date 5G deployment has predominately been non- standalone, around 2,000 mobile standalone 5G sites were deployed by the end of 2023
  • The number of shared access licences, which are used by private networks, has reached approximately 1,500, up from 900 in 2022

Government has helped the sector with setting out its long term ambitions for 4G and 5G (via the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy).

However, more is required and the Commission recommends the government should work with the sector to accelerate 5G standalone deployment so that planned investment is delivered.

The Shared Rural Network is of concern – and techUK would point to much needed work on planning in particular to help with this major infrastructure upgrade, and wider deployment of mobile infrastructure. While Permitted Development Rights changes have helped, more can be done – indeed, the Commission notes that planning remains a blocker which is slowing the deployment of 5G networks in particular.

Despite the challenging investment climate for new mobile networks, competition among operators and their rollout plans indicate significant network investment in the coming years. While many 5G use cases can currently be supported by existing technologies like 4G or WiFi, this may change as new 5G standards and use cases emerge.

The Commission recommends that the government should explore options for subsidising 5G coverage in uncommercial areas if new use cases demonstrate the need for nationwide coverage.



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Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK