On 8 March 2017, in a speech forming part of the Spring Budget 2017, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, confirmed that the UK government will invest over £1 billion in the country’s digital infrastructure, targeted at supporting roll-out of full-fibre connections and future 5G communications – with £740 million being invested through the National Productivity Investment Fund.
In parallel, earlier this month the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (the “DCMS“) published its strategy paper planning next steps for 5G mobile technology. The report sets out the government’s commitment for the UK to be a global leader in the next generation of mobile technology as well as its current thinking on how the UK can take advantage of the benefits of 5G and overcome the related challenges – including by clearing “vital new spectrum for 5G use” (see article below regarding Ofcom’s 5G spectrum strategy). Key initiatives include those set out below:
- 5G test beds and trial programme: The government will initially invest up to £16 million on a new facility to trial and test 5G applications. This facility will run alongside research institutions and will be in operation during 2017/2018 with an “end-to-end” 5G trial expected in early 2018. The programme is expected to improve understanding of the economics of infrastructure deployment and how to do so in a cost effective manner. The government is also expected to work with organisations such as the National Cyber Security Centre to support the development of new security architectures that meet customer expectations and the needs of 5G services.
- Fibre roll-out: A further £200 million fund will be used to fund local community projects to accelerate market delivery of fully fibre networks. This is alongside £400 million which will be matched by private sector investors to establish a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund.
- Electronic Communications Code: The report commits to overhauling the Electronic Communications Code (the “Code“) to lower the cost of infrastructure deployment which will also assist with spectrum availability. The Code governs the rights of communications operators to access public and private land for the installation of communications apparatus. The existing Code has long been criticised and the DCMS published its proposed reform of the Code in May 2016 which forms part of the draft Digital Economy Bill.
- Infrastructure sharing: The government agrees with the National Infrastructure Commission’s (“NIC“) Connected Future report and recommendations on 5G – confirming that infrastructure sharing, in conjunction with competition rules, can be an “effective and economically efficient” way of delivering telecoms infrastructure, particularly in areas where it is not cost effective to deploy competing infrastructure networks. The government will work with Ofcom to identify and tackle unnecessary barriers to infrastructure sharing and explore the potential for a clearer and more robust framework, while preserving investment incentives.
- Coverage and capacity: The government agrees with the NIC, that there should be high quality mobile coverage where people live, work and travel. The government will assess the essential elements of high quality coverage in these areas this year as well as how best to implement them by no later than 2025. In parallel, Ofcom will also be required to set out by the end of 2017 how this will be achieved for existing services. The government will work with industry to look at new models to provide better coverage on transport routes.
Whilst the report identifies certain areas where action will be taken and others where further investigation is required, it is acknowledged to be a “living” document and will be updated regularly as the government’s understanding of the issues and challenges improves.
To view “Next Generation Mobile Technologies: A 5G Strategy for the UK”, click here.