Elliott starts calling for AT&T CEOs head – report

Elliott Management, the activist investor which steamrolled into the AT&T business, has called for the replacement of CEO Randall Stephenson.

Stephenson, who has been running the telco since 2007, will hopefully have seen this move coming. The vulture fund has somewhat of an action-plan template when attempting to cause chaos, and a complete restructure of the management team is a tried and testing phase of the battleplan.

According to Fox News, Elliott Management is not only calling for the resignation of Stephenson, it is requesting it be made responsible for sourcing his replacement and demanding representatives on the Board of Directors.

After announcing it had snapped up a $3.2 billion stake in the telco, Elliott Management set to work. As with other companies the vulture fund has invested in, the objective is disruption, slimming back the focus of the business to realise value for the shareholder. This value will take the form of increased dividends and a bump in share price.

The first phase of the Elliott Management plan has already been set into play. Uncertainty has been placed in the mind of investors with the suggestion of a new strategy for AT&T. Elliott did the same at Telecom Italia when it bought its way into the debate. At AT&T, this is a divestment in the media business and a refocus on more traditional telco business activities.

The second and third phases of the disruptive battleplan are plain for everyone to see here. Elliott Management wants to appoint friendlies on the Board of Directors, and it wants to reform the executive team. Both of these phases of the plan will put the right people in the right place to act as internal champions of the Elliott Management approach to telecommunications.

The strategy being proposed is a very simple one, though it will fundamentally alter the direction of the AT&T business. Through the acquisition of both DirecTV and Time Warner, AT&T was looking like a digital services giant with connectivity at the route of the various different products. Elliott Management wants to get rid of these added value components.

Let’s not underestimate or underappreciate how much of a drastic change to the AT&T business this is.

How this saga will evolve remains to be seen. Perhaps the content businesses will be spun-off. One insider is suggesting a JV with a private equity partner and Dish. Some might assume this would be a complete divestment. Maybe a spin-off and an IPO is on the cards to recover funds and reduce AT&T debt?

There are a lot of options, but AT&T will fundamentally be a different business. It will be one which is focused on the commoditised business of connectivity. However, if Elliott Management want to succeed in their ambition, they will need some internal friendlies at the telco. For Stephenson and other executives, this might well mean a new job.

Openreach cuts costs by 75% to attract builders to fibre diet

Openreach will be slashing the cost of installing fibre wires in new residential developments of less than 30 plots, as it looks to tempt housing developers onto a fibre diet.

Although it might seem remarkable, house builders are not currently mandated by law to install fibre broadband infrastructure on new premises. Considering the aggressive rhetoric being spouted by the UK Government when it comes to laying future-proofed foundations for the digital economy, it does beggar belief the opportunity to cut corners and ignore fibre is still available to these developers.

The ‘Housing Crisis’ in the UK is one which does attract headlines. The severity of this ‘crisis’ does of course depend on who you are talking to, though in certain regions it is undeniable there is a shortage of properties. All you have to look at the price of a two-bedroom flat in London to understand the pickle some youngsters might be in.

This does present an opportunity for the housing developers to make a profit. During the last quarter, the Office for National Statistics estimated 42,870 new homes were completed, though not all took fibre as default. Around 88% of plots on new builds contracting with Openreach elect fibre, though this number increases to almost 100% for plots of over 30 premises.

However, there are still numerous developers which are not taking fibre as a default position. Openreach suggests 124,000 of the new homes constructed in the UK in 2018 still lack access to ‘superfast’ broadband speeds of 30 Mbps or more. The situation is gradually improving, though there still much work to do.

With this in mind, Openreach is looking to increase the attractiveness of installing fibre connectivity through cutting costs by up-to 75% for multi-dwelling housing developments up to 29 properties.

“Our existing offer already provides huge benefits to both buyers and builders alike, but we wanted to go further and make sure everybody moving into a new build property can enjoy the advantages of Fibre-to-the-Premises broadband,” said Kim Mears, MD of Strategic Infrastructure Development.

“Our new offer provides a low-cost option to housebuilders and we hope it will help encourage the adoption of this future-proof technology across smaller developments so that no-one’s left behind.”

Although internet speeds might seem like an after-thought to some, research from LSE and Imperial College Business School suggests home-owners in London are willing to pay up to 8% above the market value properties in areas offering very fast internet speeds. The benefits of fibre connectivity for housing developers is key, though there are still some who are demonstrating a preference for copper, presenting a problem to the likes of Openreach and Virgin Media; it would be far simpler to connect properties while they are in the construction stages.

The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) concluded connectivity in new builds was not anywhere near the standard it should be, while the FTTH Council Europe estimates also paint a dreary picture. Fibre penetration is as low as 1.5% across the UK, woefully short of other nations such as Latvia (46.9% penetration), Sweden (43.6%) or Spain (43.6%). Even the lethargic Germany manages to beat the UK with 2.3%.

Moving forward, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is set to publish its opinion from a recent consultation into the matter, with the intention of making it mandatory for developers to install gigabit-capable connections to all new build developments in the future. This is a step in the right direction, though it does surprise us it has taken until 2019 for such rules to be considered.

The consultation should result in a change to the rules, though whether this goes as far as some would want remains to be seen. It would also be a fair assumption that these new rules would not be implemented immediately.

Openreach might have to use the financial carrot for a bit longer while the slow-moving cogs of government click into place.

UK government tries to encourage 5G innovation rural areas

The UK government has set aside £30 million to fund a few winners of a competition to come up with bright ideas about exploiting 5G tech in the countryside.

This marks the latest minor trip to the well that is the National Productivity Investment Fund, a pot of £37 billion in public wedge that is being drip-fed to industry every time the government reckons a certain area of infrastructure could do with a prod in the right direction. 5G and fibre are core national infrastructure topics, as is the development of rural communities, so the government gets two PR wins for the price of one with this announcement – a bargain at £30 million.

“The British countryside has always been a hotbed of pioneering industries and we’re making sure our rural communities aren’t left behind in the digital age,” said Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan. “We’re investing millions so the whole country can grasp the opportunities and economic benefits of next generation 5G technology.

“In modern Britain people expect to be connected wherever they are. And so we’re committed to securing widespread mobile coverage and must make sure we have the right planning laws to give the UK the best infrastructure to stay ahead.”

That latter statement is a nod to ongoing work to give operators better access to places where they can stick their radio gear, which presumably resulted from persistent moaning on the matter from said operators. This could well be especially challenging in rural areas, where land owners are in a strong position to dictate the terms of business.

Among the changes under consideration in this area are:

  • changing the permitted height of new masts to deliver better mobile coverage, promote mast sharing and minimise the need to build more infrastructure;
  • allowing existing ground-based masts to be strengthened without prior approval to enable sites to be upgraded for 5G and for mast sharing;
  • deploying radio equipment cabinets on protected and unprotected land without prior approval, excluding sites of special scientific interest; and
  • allowing building-based masts nearer to roads to support 5G and increase mobile coverage.

“We’re committed to delivering the homes people across the country need, and that includes delivering the right infrastructure such as broadband connectivity and good mobile coverage,” said Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Esther McVey.

“There is nothing more frustrating than moving into your new home to find signal is poor. That’s why we are proposing to simplify planning rules for installing the latest mobile technology – helping to extend coverage and banish more of those signal blackspots, particularly for those living in rural areas.”

Slightly hyperbolic there, Esther, and it’s presumably part of any home-buyer’s due diligence to check the mobile signal when they inspect their prospective purchase, but we get your point. Whether land-owners, farmers, etc agree on the paramount importance of rural mobile connectivity is another matter, but one of the organizations claiming to represent them seems keen.

“The vast potential of the rural economy will only be fulfilled when everyone in the countryside has full mobile connectivity, and we welcome DCMS’s intent to deliver the Prime Minister’s promise of internet access for all,” said Mark Bridgeman, Deputy President of the Country Land and Business Association.

“The current situation, where only 67% of the country can access a decent signal, is unacceptable and government is right to focus on planning reform as a means to removing current barriers but there must also be a balance between the interests of landowners and mobile operators.”

Prospective rural 5G pioneers have a couple of months to apply for a piece of the 30 mil. This sort of thing seems fairly positive on the surface, but it’s debatable how much impact chucking a few mil at a small number of pet projects will have in the great scheme of things. On the flip side any state intervention in private business needs to be treated with caution as the ultimate arbiter of the viability of any business initiative should be the market.

Telco lobby tells BoJo to show his commitment to fibre goals

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson made some waves with his 2025 100% full-fibre broadband objectives in recent weeks, and now the telcos are asking him to prove it’s more than hot air.

In an open letter to the Prime Minister (BoJo), associations representing the telco industry in the UK have asked for more concrete commitments to broadband deployment. The fear from many is that this claim will turn out to be nothing more than campaign promises and political point scoring, BoJo does have a track-record in that area after all.

“We welcome your campaign’s focus on improving digital connectivity,” the letter states. “The nationwide rollout of full fibre broadband is an ambitious challenge, and requires a mix of leadership, pioneering spirit and Government support to be possible.

“The industry stands ready to rise to this challenge, but we need a Prime Minister who can provide the direction, idealism and commitment to fulfil this ambition. We call on you to give a full commitment that your Government will give us the tools we need to deliver future-proof connections across the UK.”

Signed by the Internet Service Providers’ Association, the Federation of Communications Services and the Independent Networks Co-operative Association, this could be seen as a communique which represents every quarter of the communications segments in the UK.

Looking at the specifics, its not necessarily anything new from these associations however…

Starting with the obvious, cash, the letter applauds the financial commitment made by the UK Government in assisting the industry in deploying future-proofed infrastructure, but more needs to be done. £3-5 billion in public funds is a good start, but the regulatory landscape should be addressed to ensure the environment is assistive when driving towards the ambitious goals.

This was the main concern from industry insiders when reacting to BoJo’s accelerated objectives for full-fibre broadband across the UK. The initial target, 2033, was already ambitious according to our conversations, though if anyone is to get anywhere near full-fibre coverage by 2025 the skills shortage and regulatory landscape were urgent challenges in need of address.

This is the crux of the letter to BoJo; sort out the red-tape maze. The fibre tax is an on-going issue, as is access to wayleaves. The latter is a very difficult issue to fix, as while the new Electronic Communications Code grants telcos more power, many landowners are hitting back with lawsuits due to unreasonable conditions imposed on them by the telcos (rent and/or access rights). The bottleneck of legal complications could risk a slow-down in both mobile and broadband deployment; this is an issue which needs addressing quickly.

Another gripe from the associations is focused on new-builds. Again, this is not a new complaint from the industry, but many feel house-builders should be forced to include fibre-connectivity as default through regulation. This might sound like an obvious trick to drive fibre deployment and adoption, but it is an area which is often overlooked, or overshadowed by other conversations.

Finally, the skills shortage has been raised. This is a point which was brought up by industry insiders following the initial pledge by BoJo; how much faster can the telcos go? Broadband deployment is labour intensive work and there are only so many bodies. Virgin Media and Openreach are already hiring extensively, and it is a bit more complicated than throwing a hard-hat on Joe or Jane Bloggs.

As it stands, roughly 7% of the homes across the UK currently have the opportunity to subscribe to full-fibre broadband, though uptake is roughly half of that number to date. To extend full-fibre to all 32 million homes by 2025, industry has suggested it would cost £30 billion, while the workforce would have to be drastically increased. BT has said it would have to hire another 30,000 field engineers to meet the demands of connecting an average of 20,000 a week to stick to the accelerated timeline.

BT CEO Philip Jansen has already come out in support of BoJo’s objectives, but like the associations here, he has suggested there will need to be changes.

“We are ready to play our part to accelerate the pace of roll-out, in a manner that will benefit both the country and our shareholders, and we are engaging with the government and (regulator) Ofcom,” Jansen said.

In order to aide this objective, BT would have to do some rejigging of its own. This might involve a rethink in how CAPEX is allocated, and even a cut to the dividend. But this would only happen if it made economic sense, and do to this, BT presumably needs more than political rhetoric from the PM.

It should come as little surprise telco lobbyists are whispering in the ear of the new Prime Minister, however there are some valid points. 2025 is an incredibly ambitious (some might say ludicrous) objective, though the red-tape maze will need to be trimmed into shape if there is any hope of getting any where near it.

Huawei gets out of the subsea game

A filing with the Shanghai Stock Exchange has revealed Huawei will be selling its marine cabling business, the first divestment since relationships turned sour with the White House.

Hengtong Optic-Electric is the kind recipient of the marine business, according to Reuters, claiming a 51% stake. Although the business is profitable, $16.66 million in 2018 according to Huawei’s annual report, removing a distraction of a capital-intensive unit might be what the wider business needs in this tenuous period of international dispute.

Huawei’s marine business has been up-and-running since announcing a joint venture with Global Marine in 2008. Over the last decade, Huawei has slowly been eating up more market share, with the firm participating in 90 projects worldwide, building more than 50k kilometres of the undersea cables. It was one of the participants which built the first cable connecting Africa and South America, completed in September.

While it is a firm under pressure on the international political scene, it does have a tendency to be very competitive in all the segments which it casts an eye to. The same could be said regarding the subsea world, and there may be a few parties happy to see the bad of it.

Aside from Huawei, NEC and Alcatel-Lucent are big players in the market, though there are certainly some US names in the mix. SubCom is a big name, while Infinera and Ciena are also players.

Despite many suggesting US Government actions against Huawei, and Chinese companies more generically, have been to reassert the US’ position in the technology industry. That said, while this is one of the scenarios which seem to benefit US firms, there has been plenty of collateral damage, not least to mention the number of US companies in the Huawei supply chain who are watching their business crumble away day-by-day.

It’ll vary from person to person if you believe the link between the trade war and this sale, but you can’t argue about the material impact President Trump is having on the telecoms industry.

Wearables are on the up – IDC

Global shipments of wearable devices are increasingly healthily increasing, according to IDC estimates, up 55% to 49.6 million over the first three months of 2019.

Wearables are a tricky segment for the technology and telco world. So much is promised, a new revolution in digital society, but for years it has failed to deliver on the potential. That said, the last couple of quarters have looked a lot more promising.

“The elimination of headphone jacks and the increased usage of smart assistants both inside and outside the home have been driving factors in the growth of ear-worn wearables,” said Jitesh Ubrani Research Manager for IDC Mobile Device Trackers.

“Looking ahead, this will become an increasingly important category as major platform and device makers use ear-worn devices as an on-ramp to entice consumers into an ecosystem of wearable devices that complement the smartphone but also offer the ability to leave the phone behind when necessary.”

This was perhaps the watershed moment for wearables; standalone connectivity. Smart watches, the flagbearer for the segment on the whole, struggled to gain traction due to a lack of standalone connectivity. These certainly weren’t fashion accessories in the early days and tethering the devices to a smartphone largely undermined the selling points.

With standalone connectivity there is now attention on the devices, and the increasing adoption of voice user interface, the devices more appealing for a wider range of applications. That said, the fitness niche is still proving to be a profitable one.

“Shipments of wristwear – including watches and wristbands – grew 31.6% year over year, and continue to dominate the wearables landscape,” said Ramon Llamas, Research Director for Wearables at IDC.

“While the functionalities and capabilities have grown and changed, the one common thread is the relentless focus on health and fitness. This has resonated strongly with users and health insurance companies alike, and new health and fitness insights attract a larger audience.”

Brand Shipments (million) Market share Year-on-year growth
Apple 12.8 25.8% 49.5%
Xiaomi 6.6 13.3% 68.2%
Huawei 5 10% 282.2%
Samsung 4.3 8.7% 151.6%
Fitbit 2.9 5.9% 35.7%
Others 18 36.3% 26%

Interestingly enough, over the last few quarters the top five manufacturers have been consolidating their position in the market, with the ‘others’ category claiming less and less. Like the smartphone space, this is increasingly looking like a market which will be tough for new-comers to crack, with market preferences shifting towards those who have an established brand in the space.

Amazon rumoured to be rummaging around Boost

Amazon is rumoured to be one of the parties interested in purchasing Sprint’s prepaid Boost, and while it might be a long-shot, all rumours eventually seem lead back to Amazon at some point.

According to Reuters, two individuals have suggested Amazon is in the market to purchase the prepaid brand, a casualty of concessions put in front of the telco if it is to realise its merger ambitions with T-Mobile US. While any divestment in Boost is only a potential outcome for the moment, if Sprint and T-Mobile US want to get the merger greenlight from the FCC, ditching one of the prepaid brands would be one of the three conditions.

Of course, what is worth noting is that Amazon is not the only interested party. Boost founder Peter Adderton has also shown interest in buying back the company he sold to Sprint in 2006. Funnily enough, Adderton has been one of the critics of the merger, though his tune seems to have changed since the opportunity to get a deal on Boost emerged…

This is nothing but speculation for the moment. Any divestment in Boost would depend on the merger between Sprint and T-Mobile US being approved, an outcome which is far from guaranteed considering alleged objections from the Department of Justice on the grounds of competition.

That said, a yes is a distinct (but fleeting…) possibility. And Amazon would of course be in the picture.

If Amazon is good at anything, it is a master at selling the brand and draining customer’s wallets for an extra couple of quid each month. Connectivity is an interesting prospect for Amazon, as while some might question why it would want to get involved in such a messy and decreasingly profitable industry, but there is an opportunity to create innovative products through bundling.

According to Ovum’s lead analyst for fixed and mobile Dario Talmesio, this could be an option for disruption. For the core eCommerce business, Amazon offers a premium delivery service for physical goods. For its digital assets, such as the content offering, why couldn’t it do the same? Connectivity is the delivery function of online services, so it is a similar concept.

The big idea here is adding value. Amazon might not necessarily make a significant profit from connectivity, but connectivity as a value add could have a compounding effect on the digital content business.

“Amazon is known for regularly screening the horizon for all kind of opportunities,” said Talmesio. “When it comes to MVNO-like connectivity, Kindle was in industry-first example of providing free (data) delivery, which was included in the cost of the subscription or purchase of the electronic books being downloaded. There is a reason why there should not be looking at replicating the same business to other services.

“Connectivity is a mean to an end: if you want to provide a frictionless retail shopping experience, for instance, why not include connectivity as part of Amazon Prime or Prime video or, in B2B why adding it to AWS services.

“The boundaries between connectivity and cloud are blurring, and the timing could be right for Amazon to redesign the connectivity business the same way they redesigned logistics, retail, and public cloud businesses.  Amazon is all about introducing excellence in processes that need to be turned into customer-first and digital first, adding connectivity to their existing plans makes sense, as long as it also makes financial sense.”

A new approach to telecommunications and connectivity is perhaps something which the industry, or more accurately, customers are craving.

Some might consider the telcos are in a slightly precarious position. For years, customers service and experience has been considered an afterthought, and it shows. This has the potential to create a scenario where the retail business of the telcos can be disrupted by those who take a more attentive approach to customer service.

A recent survey from Matrixx suggests 85% of UK and US consumers would consider switching to an Amazon mobile connectivity contract if the option was available. 64% also said they would switch providers to get a similar experience to their favourite apps. The internet giants might not be set up to manage infrastructure, but there may well be interest for alternative brands to manage the customer relationship.

Over in the US, Google Fi is looking like it could be a success as an MVNO, though it is still early days, while in the UK, Giffgaff is gaining traction month on month. Both of these brands demonstrate that an attentive approach to customer service and delivering an innovative service to customers will gain interest from bewildered and frustrated consumers.

Of course, what is worth noting is that this is not the first time Amazon rumours have focused on the connectivity world. Back in 2012, Amazon launched an MVNO service in Japan. In 2014, it launched the Amazon Fire Mobile, though this was pretty much a disaster. In 2015, there were rumours of a US MVNO service. Earlier this year, it was revealed Amazon had partnered with low-orbit nanosatellites firm Kuiper Systems. And of course, customers can buy embedded connectivity with Kindle products.

This is nothing but market speculation for the moment, and while it would surprise a few to see Amazon connected with connectivity, there is a nice fit with other aspects of the business.

Google Loon up-and-floating to aid Peru earthquakes

Commercial contract negotiations with Telefonica Peru have allowed Google’s Loon to respond to Amazonian earthquakes within 48-hours of receiving the call.

While the prospect of delivering connectivity via hot air balloons might baffle some, Google’s old-school approach is proving it has a valid and justified place in the digital world. Not only can the balloons deliver connectivity to underserved and commercially-unattractive regions, but the fleet can be quickly mobilised to assist in areas hit by natural disasters.

“Over the past few months, we have been in negotiations with Telefónica on a commercial contract that would utilize Loon’s balloons to extend mobile internet access to unserved and underserved areas of Peru, specifically remote parts of the Amazon region,” Loon CEO Alastair Westgarth wrote on Medium.

“On Sunday morning, a magnitude 8.0 earthquake struck the region. After requests from the government of Peru and Telefónica, we quickly re-directed a group of balloons to the impacted area. Early Tuesday morning, the first balloons arrived and began serving LTE to users below.”

While many might see the internet and the digital euphoria as somewhat of a first-world luxury, connectivity is being interwoven into the foundations of society. Disaster management is only enhanced by technological break-throughs, from drones delivering supplies, big data analytics to assess real-time updates, or basic means of communication, connectivity is crucial in every aspect of the efforts.

Following the earthquake in Peru this weekend, Loon was able to establish a network over the affected region within 48-hours. This is not the first time Loon has responded to such an incident, but this time, due to on-going commercial discussions with Telefonica Peru, Loon was already integrated into the MNOs network allowing such a quick response.

Back in 2017, Loon once again aided the Peruvian Government following flooding in the Northern regions of the country. In Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria, it took four weeks to deliver a service to the impacted areas with AT&T and T-Mobile. The speed of response this time around was down to already progressing conversations with Telefonica Peru.

“It takes a lot of planning and setup to make balloon-powered internet work,” said Westgarth. “Before we can begin providing service, we need to install ground infrastructure, integrate with a mobile network operator’s (MNO) network, secure regulatory and overflights approvals, and of course launch balloons and navigate them to a desired location.”

The issue which Loon might face in the future is being pigeon holed into a niche aspect of the connectivity mix.

There is of course nothing wrong with being the first-choice option to assist with recovery efforts following a natural disaster, but the team will want to be known for more than that. Loon has ambitions to become one of the key jigsaw pieces in delivering a connectivity solution across society consistently, not only when worst-case scenarios present themselves.

In September, during the AfricaCom conference, Westgarth took to the stage to outline the ambitions of the Loon business. Westgarth pointed out that this is not a suitable substitute for traditional infrastructure, but an opportunity to enhance coverage. The balloons can offer a cost-effective and time-efficient alternative to traditional infrastructure. It might not be as attractive from a technology perspective as fibre or 5G, but it is more realistic.

In proving its effectiveness of Loon in aiding disaster management efforts, Loon might be encouraging people to overlook the opportunities which are available to enhance connectivity in everyday life.

What is worth noting is this is not just an option for the developing markets, but also for the developed ones as well.

In the larger countries, the US for example, delivering connectivity to the rural communities is an on-going challenge. While this might be satisfied over the coming years, there are still regions which will be not-spots where there is no population. The commercial case for traditional connectivity might not ever be justified for some of these regions, though IOT usecases might emerge in the coming years. This is where alternative connectivity solutions, such as satellite or Loon, could plug the gap.

In the developing markets, the business case for Loon as a consistent connectivity option is much more obvious. With ARPU considerably lower, justifying network deployment in the more traditional sense becomes much more difficult. Loon can provide a more feasible alternative.

Loon is crafting itself a useful niche which will appeal to numerous countries who have a history of being impacted by natural disasters, but it will have to be careful not to pigeon-hole itself into this nice.

Musk takes first step towards SpaceX broadband vision

SpaceX has kicked off its satellite broadband mission with the launch of 60 assets, all of which are now online.

The Elon Musk business has a vision to create an alternative offering for the broadband industry, relying on a monstrous number of assets floating at an operational altitude of 550km above the earth. The ‘Starlink Network’ is only just beginning, with Musk suggesting it would take another six missions to begin offering sparse services, while mediocre connectivity will only be delivered after a further twelve launches.

Even before Musk’s internet vision can begin to become reality, SpaceX will have to launch a further 720 satellites into orbit.

One of the big questions which remains is how congested the skies will get before too long. As it currently stands, there are roughly 2,000 satellites orbiting the earth, a number which causes some unease already. Considering Musk plans to have 12,000 in operation to deliver a broadband solution to the industry, the skies are going to be getting very crowded.

Started in 2002, SpaceX now employs more than 6,000 people with three launch sites in California, Texas and Florida. The firm is now one of several which has the ambition of creating mega-constellations to deliver connectivity, Amazon is another with its Project Kuiper and British start-up OneWeb has also launched its own satellites.

The mission started at 22.30 local time at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Musk announced that approximately one hour and two minutes after lift-off, the Starlink satellites were deployed at an altitude of 440km, with on-board propulsion systems taking the assets to operational altitude of 550km.

While this does sounds like a very ambitious venture for Musk, this is only a means to an end. The proceeds from delivering broadband connectivity will be used to fuel future, grander missions, such as Musk’s desire to colonise the Moon and Mars…

UK mobile lobby group bemoans inactivity from local councils

Perhaps the preached proactivity of central government will mean little towards the UK’s connected dream if local authorities and councils are creating a mobile bottleneck.

While it is hardly a surprise to see the lobby group representing the major UKs MNOs complaining the world is not being fair to the multi-billion-pound corporations, it would hardly come as a surprise local councils are not up-to-speed. Firstly, you have to consider the age-old stereotype of slow-moving tides in the public sector, and secondly, there is also a lot on the table for these councillors to be considering.

“Mobile connectivity has transformed our daily lives, and 5G is expected to take us even further, but we must ensure that at all levels of government we are equally prepared,” said Gareth Elliot, Head of Policy and Communications for Mobile UK.

“Councils have a vital role, yet while many are working towards a connected future, our research has found that there is still a lag in fully prioritising mobile connectivity. With launch plans announced for 5G now is the time to take the opportunity to work with industry to break down barriers and champion mobile connectivity, to ensure the next generation of mobile infrastructure can be deployed quickly and effectively.”

According to the telco’s lobbyist in its Councils and Connectivity report, a very minor percentage of local authorities are doing all they can to secure the foundations for the £164 billion opportunity presented to the UK economy through 5G by 2030. Again, you have to take the following numbers with a pinch of salt considering where they are coming from.

Mobile UK suggests only 28% of the plans set forward by the local authorities refer to mobile connectivity, though the majority do see the importance of fixed broadband. Only 13% of the councils have audited their assets for the suitability to host digital infrastructure, though we are not too sure the civil servants should shoulder all the blame here. The telcos have a responsibility to identify and secure assets for their own infrastructure, hence changes to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) to grant more powers.

Perhaps the more damning statistics are 74% of councils have yet to apply for funding to improve digital connectivity, while only 44% have a have a cabinet member with

specific responsibility for digital issues. In terms of the funding, it is there and available from central government, while DCMS has also supported calls from Mobile UK for local authorities to delegate digital responsibilities to a single committee or digital champion. These are necessarily and clear steps forward, and a lack of progress is either stubborn, negligible or ignorant; none of which are favourable adjectives.

From Mobile UKs perspective, the answer is relatively simple; having a pro-active conversation with the telcos and identifying the barriers to entry. Some of these might be opening up more authority owned assets to mobile infrastructure or aiding the installation of fibre ducting for backhaul from street furniture. For those less-progressive councils, simply identifying mobile and writing specific objectives in plans is a step in the right direction. The Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership might not be the most advanced, but Mobile UK points out that in the latest Strategic Economic Plan there is plenty of attention given to both mobile and fixed connectivity.

Although Mobile UK will be attempting to make a mountain out of a molehill, it is its job to make life easier, quicker and cheaper for the telcos after all, we strongly suspect there is more than an element of truth to this report. And in the instance of this truth, there will be negative outcomes.

For all the work which the telcos and central government is doing to facilitate improvements in 4G connectivity and the deployment of a 5G network, it means very little if there are bottlenecks in the process. There will of course be proactive councils and local authorities, who should be applauded, though the staggering nature of others will only direct the rewards of the 5G economy elsewhere, potentially creating a digital divide.

While report should almost certainly be read in context, as there will be a risk of exaggeration, inactivity from the local authorities will almost certainly present consequences. Much of the attention from a legislation and policy perspective has been directed towards DCMS and other government departments in recent years, though the ability for local authorities to action these initiatives is just as critical a factor to success.