The UK Wireless Infrastructure Strategy
Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan, has after much anticipation, announced a package of measures to use wireless infrastructure to “unlock growth, innovation and potential” across the country. The measures include a landmark ambition for all populated areas of the UK to be covered by ‘standalone’ 5G by 2030, and a £8m funding boost for connecting the remotest parts of the UK with satellite broadband.
It’s fantastic to see government set out its vision for advanced communications infrastructure across the UK, and the future services that will be underpinned by wireless technology. This Strategy is an important step in creating the right environment for long-term infrastructure investments, and enhancing the quality of the UK’s telecoms networks. To achieve the UK’s ambitions for productivity, growth, prosperity and Net Zero goals, wireless infrastructure will play a central role. We cannot afford to miss out on the benefits that the next generation of advanced communications services will deliver for the UK’s consumers and businesses. techUK’s members look forward to working with Government on the Strategy’s details, especially in increasing adoption and take up of telecoms services.
In this insight, we will give the techUK perspective on today’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, summaries of accompanying research documents, and link to other publications released today (such as the Spectrum Strategy). First our view.
techUK reaction to the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy
If you wanted a comprehensive overview of what the UK government thinks about 5G and advanced wireless connectivity, then today you have it. The Wireless Infrastructure Strategy has been published, with some key funding commitments, but overall – a list of ambitions that government hopes the UK’s private sector can help it achieve.
We are very much encouraged, but not bowled over, by what has been set out today. There is a lot to unpick and unpack, and the devil appears to be in the detail in parts of the Strategy. It is positive to see “advanced wireless connectivity” included alongside 5G throughout the document – techUK has long called for a “user requirement first” approach and technology-neutrality, especially when it comes to private networks for enterprise.
The scale of the Strategy aptly reflects the ubiquity and importance of connectivity to the UK’s economy, society, public sector, and infrastructure. We are certainly keen to understand more and help DSIT with elements referenced throughout – from boosting the rural economy via the adoption and use of agritech, to improving the passenger experience on the UK’s rail network, and making a tangible impact on our health and social care sector. techUK looks forward to working with government and our members to ensure people and businesses can reap the benefits this Strategy comprehensively sets out.
Funding commitments are welcome too, especially for those in the hardest to reach areas – but we recognise that the Strategy is just a policy framework. Implementation of this framework will require hard work from a range of stakeholders – not least Ofcom.
We therefore call on DSIT to prioritise a new Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) to provide greater certainty to the UK’s telecoms sector.
Summary of main WIS proposals
Noting that digital infrastructure provides the backbone of the UK economy and society with ever more jobs, public services and societal interactions built upon its foundations, DSIT then outlines its 2030 ambition. First up, a helpful outline of the 5G evolution (from non-standalone through to advanced). Then, the benefits on offer should demand for 5G and advanced comms services be fully stimulated, restating DSIT’s ambition for nationwide coverage of standalone 5G to all populated areas of the UK by 2030. There is no public funding for this ambition, though DSIT commits to supporting commercial investment by working “closely with the telecoms industry to strengthen the investment environment, continue to remove barriers to deployment, ensure regulation is not a barrier to innovation and boost demand for wireless services”.
One of the meatier and more significant sections of the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. Here we see DSIT reflect on and share insight on the policy levers it feels can boost the commercial investment picture for the UK. These levers extend from government’s support of a dynamic marketplace that promotes competition (infrastructure and retail level) and drives innovation, efficiency and value for users. DSIT confirms its view from the FTIR that there is no ‘magic number’ of mobile network operators in the market: it is open to consolidation and any decision on mergers is for the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Planning reform appears less substantiated in ambition than other topics.
A topic that is currently attracting high levels of attention – Net Neutrality – is succinctly quietened: Ofcom has a clear role in updating guidance, and NN and the “Fair share” debate will be closely monitored. Finally – demonstrating the value of the UK Spectrum Policy Forum following the publication of the Analysys Mason review of mobile spectrum market mechanisms – DSIT instructs Ofcom to review and set out for ministers a clear and forward-looking rationale for its approach to setting mobile spectrum fees before the end of 2023.
A very welcome step - £40m of public funding will go to regions and local authorities across the UK, helping to establish themselves as ‘5G Innovation Regions’, promoting innovation through investment in, and scaled adoption of, 5G and other advanced wireless technologies by businesses and public services. This is something techUK called for in our FTIR report: Fit to deliver for 5G and full fibre four years on? – for government to demonstrate the value of 5G for the public sector by establishing itself as an anchor tenant for 5G infrastructure and services. DSIT also calls for local digital infrastructure strategies for each local area, with digital champions and coordinators, to help local areas “stack” use cases and attract investment.
We now have UK Vision for 6G in 2023, approximately seven years before the government sees commercial deployments on a large scale. DSIT is open that it doesn’t fully know what 6G will look like yet but “it has the potential to address some of the important challenges of our time”. Therefore, alongside the 6G vision and six pillars of the UK’s new 6G Strategy, DSIT has announced it is launching a new, long-term national mission, with initial funding of up to £100 million, to ensure the UK is at the leading-edge of future telecoms and 6G technologies. The six pillars are: UK Vision; R&D; Patents and Standards; Spectrum; International Alliances; and Roadmap. Again, it is welcome to see this ambition stated so early on in the 6G journey, which remains today in the academic research phase, but we sense the devil will be in the detail here, and we look forward to working with DSIT and techUK members as the 6G vision develops into reality.
Research accompanying the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy
With the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, DSIT has also published a new Spectrum Statement, and shared details of research it has commissioned as part of the WIS, including the GO Science Wireless 2030 report from January.
Realising the benefits of 5G: DSIT (then DCMS) commissioned Cambridge Econometrics, together with Analysys Mason, to conduct this study to understand the likely applications of 5G technology (use cases); understand the sectors that will benefit most from these capabilities; understand the barriers to take-up of 5G services; and understand the overall economic impact generated by the success or failure of 5G roll-out in the UK. The report uses evidence from a literature review and a series of interviews with UK stakeholders and was completed in August 2021.
Review of the 5G ecosystem, adoption and industrial use cases in Asia by ABI Research: The objective of this study was to better understand the impact and extent of real world deployments of 5G and it covers: the impacts of 5G use cases from 156 case studies, across 10 sectors; the productivity, carbon reduction and safety benefits of 5G use cases; and a cost-benefit analysis for the average large manufacturing firm upgrading to 5G. The report uses evidence from literature review and a series of stakeholder interviews: it was completed in December of 2022.
Ensuring future wireless connectivity needs are met: Analysys Mason, together with Oxera, was commissioned to investigate the wireless connectivity landscape, the wireless connectivity needed to support future use cases, and wireless solutions; assess the extent to which UK connectivity providers will deliver the cellular infrastructure to meet future mobile traffic demand; and identify demand-side and supply-side policies that could be used to stimulate the market or support investment to meet connectivity needs. The report uses evidence from a literature review and a series of interviews with UK stakeholders and was completed in May 2022.
Ensuring optimal value from spectrum: This research was carried out by Frontier Economics and LS telcom to help better understand how to maximise the overall value of spectrum to the UK. Specifically, the study attempts to: assess the value of spectrum to a range of different sectors and applications, from mobile communications and broadcasting to maritime transport and space science; examine trends and drivers of demand for spectrum, and forecast future demand for radio spectrum by sector over the next five to fifteen years; and identify future challenges to ensuring spectrum in the UK is optimally used and allocated; and examine policies which could be implemented in the UK to improve the optimal value and use of spectrum. The research was conducted until May 2022 and therefore does not take into account more recent developments.
If you would like to learn more about techUK's telecoms policy and the work delivered by our Communications Infrastructure and Services Programme, get in touch with Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, Sophie James.