EE plugs transport hubs as priority for 5G

As telcos jostle for top-spot in the 5G stakes EE has added further colour to its network deployment plans, with the UK’s busiest transport hubs taking priority.

Having switched on, albeit very limited, 5G coverage in 20 cities around the UK, EE is surging ahead to expand the coverage of the high-speed airwaves. As is the standard approach to deploying a new network, the busiest hubs for connectivity are first on the agenda, with the green light lit in London Waterloo, Liverpool Street and Charing Cross train stations.

“Switching on 5G in more busy places will help to keep our customers connected to the things that matter to them the most,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer division.

“Our engineers are building new 5G sites every day and increasing capacity on 4G sites – all part of our ambition to keep all of our customers connected 100% of the time.”

Although some might be a bit irked that train stations are getting 5G exposure rather than their home or office, it does make sense for the telcos. These are areas which are subject to congestion and notable network strain during peak hours, and let’s not forget, 5G offers greater spectral efficiency to ensure more devices can be connected simultaneously. Addressing these network congestion challenges will be a key objective to improve customer experience.

Aside from the three stations named above, Highbury and Islington station, New Cross Gate Overground station and Shoreditch High Street Overground station are further London sites which will be given the 5G connectivity buzz. Outside of London, Market Street on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, Belfast’s Great Northern Mall and City Hall, Cardiff’s St David’s shopping centre and Morgan Arcade and Albert Square in Manchester will also get the 5G upgrade.

The coverage map is gradually becoming more attractive for those considering a 5G contract, though there are still concerns about whether enough attention is being paid to 4G networks.

“5G will undoubtably unlock a range of exciting new consumer and business use cases,” said Ingo Flomer, CTO at Cobham Wireless. “However, there aren’t many 5G handsets available and in use today. Commuters still rely on 4G to access work emails or enjoy video streaming while on the move.

“Getting reliable 4G mobile coverage is still a challenge for commuters on lots of the UK’s most popular rail routes, as well as in stations, but it needn’t be such a hurdle. Solutions exist that can overcome the challenge of providing reliable voice and data coverage in stations and rail lines – an important part of the passenger experience.

“There will come a time when blanket 5G coverage is needed. Now, however, it is important to deliver adequate 4G mobile coverage to guarantee quality of service for consumers, and support business and operator growth in all areas in the UK.”

Flomer has a genuine point. Everyone who regularly uses public transport across the UK, or use stations outside of London, will have come across the same frustrations. Inconsistent and unreliable 4G connectivity.

According to the latest Ofcom Connected Nations report, only 66% of the UK landmass is deemed to have access to ‘good’ 4G data services from all four telcos. As you can see from the table below, EE is offering the best breadth of coverage, though there is still some work to do.

Telco Geographic coverage
EE 84%
O2 74%
Three 78%
Vodafone 79%
All four 66%

Those who live and work in the city will not realise some of these frustrations. The 4G coverage map has not been completely filled in yet, and some will still fall through the gaps created by the digital divide.

One of the promises of the connected world is mobility. The idea of improving accessibility to the internet and embedding connectivity in more devices is to make people more productive and enable more people to work anywhere. Employees and employers alike will certainly be interested in this message, though the network does have to be there to fulfil the promise.

Right now, there are still too many holes in the networks spread across the UK. Some communities are being left behind, while transportation links, not just the hubs, need to be given adequate attention.

In fairness to the telcos, this is a difficult equation to balance. Bank accounts do have their limit and some companies are being asked to spend across a range of different areas. Compromises have to be made, though some might question whether the telcos have found the right mix yet.

5G might be grabbing the attention, but it will be 4G which will be the most important networks for years to come. 5G smartphones will remain too expensive for many, while it will take years to get the 5G network coverage map anywhere near as extensive as 4G. It is promising to see EE’s network gathering momentum, but we need to ensure 4G expansion is still a priority for telcos.

uSwitch warns 5G won’t cover 4G’s inadequacies

Comparison website uSwitch.com has put somewhat of a dampener on 5G festivities with a warning that the 4G journey has not been completed just yet.

With three of the four MNOs up-and-running in the 5G world, attention has been drawn away from 4G networks. This is where uSwitch is finding frustration, as it points to the fact 5G connectivity at scale is still a long-off ambition and millions will continue to rely on the success of 4G networks for years to come.

“With so many of us completely reliant on our smartphones these days for our news, work, shopping and social media updates, there is little more frustrating than being unable to connect to phone services which we pay for,” said Ernest Doku of uSwitch.com.

“Ofcom reports that 66% of the UK has 4G coverage from all major provider, but more than 23 million people are still facing difficulties connecting to their networks. This can sometimes be blamed on network congestion at busy times, but often the capacity simply isn’t there for the numbers of people wanting to access a service they have paid for.”

According to research from uSwitch, 17.1 million people or 33% of adult smartphone users have trouble connecting to 4G at least once a week. 5 million suggest they struggle to connect to their devices each day, while another 5 million are frustrated by connectivity on public transport.

4G Availability
London 84.4%
Yorkshire and Humber 83%
North East 82.5%
North West 82.1%
Northern Ireland 82%
West Midlands 81%
East Midlands 78.7%
South East 78.3%
Eastern 78%
Scotland 77.2%
Wales 75.9%
South West 75.4%

Source: Opensignal – data collection, Jan 1 – Dec 31, 2018

The figures do seem to vary quite significantly across the UK, though recent research from Opensignal suggests that numerous large cities are falling considerably short of 100% 4G coverage. London, often seen as the hub of connectivity and innovation in the UK, only has 84% 4G coverage across the city, while Wales and Scotland lag behind the rest of the country in 4G availability, at 76% and 77% respectively.

It might an impossible dream to secure 100% 4G availability, all the time, though it does raise questions. Are the telcos paying enough attention to 4G connectivity?

What is worth noting is that there are initiatives underway to ensure 4G is given the attention it demands. Three recently announced it was upgrading 6,000 cell sites to pave the way for the introduction of new 1400 MHz spectrum, while it is also re-farming 3G airwaves. Both of these initiatives should enhance the 4G experience for customers.

Although it might be a bit of a negative statement from uSwitch.com, the team is absolutely correct. Migration to 5G will not happen overnight and it will take years for networks to be deployed. 4G and 5G will run alongside for years to come, especially when you consider the price accessibility of 5G-compatiable devices.

Sunrise claiming 80% (no joke) 5G population coverage already

It might be a small country, and its citizens might be concentrated in the cities, but Switzerland is driving forward with 5G like few other countries around the world.

Switzerland is not the biggest of markets, but it is demonstrating how competition can drive network deployment forward. Alongside market leader Swisscom suggesting it will have 90% population coverage by the end of 2019 for 5G, Sunrise is claiming it has already hit the 80% milestone.

With 262 cities and towns already covered in the 5G blanket, the Swiss consumers are getting treated to a connectivity euphoria few others can claim to match.

“At the start of April, we launched our 5G network for selected customers,” said Olaf Swantee, CEO of Sunrise.

“This makes us the first 5G provider in Switzerland and Europe. Since then, we have successfully extended our lead. The Sunrise 5G network is the biggest in the country and sets a benchmark in terms of coverage quality.

“We do not differentiate between ‘fast’ and ‘wide’, between fast and slow 5G. Private and business customers want good and fast 5G coverage. That’s why we will also be offering 5G coverage in all Sunrise Shops by the end of the year. In addition to this, we will be launching a dedicated solution for companies, allowing them to benefit from 5G as soon as possible to aid their digitization.”

The first phase of this 5G push is upgrading existing cell sites. This is the simplest aspect of the strategy, though with Huawei’s ‘LampSite’ solution the Sunrise team is addressing the indoor coverage dilemma. As the focus on indoor coverage moves forward, the team is quickly turning its attention to driving ROI through enterprise solutions.

So, what is different in Switzerland? How have the telcos driven forward so quickly into the 5G era?

Firstly, you must take into account the size of the country. At 41,284 km2, Switzerland is ranked 132nd worldwide. It is not massive. And with a population of roughly 8.5 million, it is listed at 99th globally.

Secondly, ARPU is notably higher in Switzerland. During the last quarter, ARPU for post-paid customers was £32.01 for Sunrise. This compares to £20.7 at EE in the UK or £15.33 in France with Orange. Not only does this offer more free cash to drive network investments, it provides more security and confidence when judging ROI.

Thirdly, competition is critically important here. With Swisscom being aggressive with its own rollout, Sunrise has to keep pace. And the faster Sunrise moves, it drags Swisscom forward as well. It is competition at its finest, a virtuous cycle.

Finally, the presence of Olaf Swantee should not be underestimated. As Ovum’s Paul Lambert points out, Swantee is aware to the power of 5G, and having led EE’s successful 4G deployment, the drive and experience to move into the next generation is right at the top of the organization.

Sunrise is not particularly in the same league as Swisscom for the moment, though an aggressive push towards 5G could bridge the gap (6.3 million subscribers at Swisscom, versus 2.4 million at Sunrise). This appears to be the strategy employed by Sunrise according to Lambert; scaled 5G coverage offers a differentiator for the telco and an opportunity to capture higher paying customers.

What is worth noting is population coverage is very different to geographical coverage. Switzerland is a highly urbanised country, roughly 73% live in urban environments, easing the demands on network deployment. When you look at the rural landscapes in Switzerland however, the challenges start to mount up very quickly.

This is a common trait in the majority of the markets where 5G has gotten off to a flying start. South Korea is another example of a market moving very quickly towards the 5G era, and once again, it is a highly-urbanised country. The UK is a third which has the advantage of a relatively small land mass, combined with a concentrated population.

Although these are factors which will simplify the network deployment equation, that should not take away from the progress being made across the Swiss telco industry. In the absence of coverage obligations, good old competition and ambition is driving the agenda.

EE spares no expense in hyping official 5G launch but coverage is mixed

UK mobile operator EE has finally flicked on the 5G switch in six cities but not everyone is as excited about it as Stormzy.

To commemorate 5G being switched on EE floated a stage out into the middle of the river Thames and put rapper Stormzy on it to perform a special set that culminated in warm sentiments towards EE and 5G, which you can see below. “Big up EE, thank you for letting me launch your 5G network in the UK,” said Stormzy. “Tonight was sick, I’m honoured to be part of history.” His agent is presumably no less pleased.

“We wanted to mark the arrival of the UK’s first 5G network with something spectacular,” said Marc Allera, CEO of BT’s consumer business. “Tonight, we made history, not only by becoming the first network to launch 5G in the UK, but also using 5G to live stream this event to thousands of fans across the UK. Stormzy lit up the Thames and his fans’ faces with the energy, passion and charisma that he always brings to his live shows.”

As previously indicated, 5G was switched on in bits of London, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Manchester. Apparently this shiny new 5G tech was used to not just power the performance but beam it to EE stores in the other launch cities in order to create a 360-degree VR experience.

Stormzy kept the crowd rapt with this one-off show, set against the iconic backdrop of London’s Tower Bridge,” gushed the EE press release. “First things first he set the evening’s tone, rising up on stage as night fell to an overwhelming ovation from the buoyant crowd, which included competition winners from across the UK.” Stormzy went on to announce he was launching an ‘EE 5G ting’ apparently.

EE also found a further ally in the unlikely form of state broadcaster BBC. The two claim to have ‘successfully made the UK’s first live TV contribution over a public 5G connection’, in which an outside broadcast was beamed back to BBC HQ over 5G. This marks the first time a public 5G network has been used by a production team for a live TV programme, we’re told.

“This is an excellent example of how the BBC experiments with cutting-edge technology to improve how we make programmes,” said Matthew Postgate, Chief Technology and Product Officer at the BBC. “5G is a hugely interesting area for us to explore, with potential to reduce the cost and complexity of outside broadcasts, and as a way of delivering content to audiences in the future. The internet will play a bigger role in broadcasting and we’re pioneering the techniques, standards and ways of working to truly take advantage of it.”

The mainstream UK media seems to have been broadly as accommodating as the beeb in their coverage of the launch, but not everyone is so unconditionally upbeat. “The rollout of 5G is a welcome step forward, however there’s no reason for most people to rush out and upgrade to a 5G device just yet,” said Alex Tofts of Broadband Genie. “Coverage will remain limited for some time, and the cost of being an early adopter is high. Once more networks deploy 5G and coverage improves, the cost will fall as competition rises.

“But while the potential of 5G is exciting we can’t forget that UK network operators still have an obligation to provide 4G signal to 95% of the UK by 2022. 5G has a lot of promise but the operators should not lose focus on ensuring that coverage for existing technology continues to improve, especially in rural locations where mobile broadband can be used to plug the gaps in fixed line broadband access.”

Ingo Flömer, VP of Business Development and Technology at Cobham Wireless, is also concerned about coverage. “5G will undoubtably unlock a range of exciting new consumer and business use cases,” he said. “However, the new connectivity standard fails to address a more pressing problem: the lack of reliable mobile connectivity in many under-connected areas of the UK.

“Not-spots don’t only exist in villages and rural areas of the country; getting 4G mobile coverage is still a massive challenge for subscribers on major over ground rail routes, transport tunnels, and in infrastructure like sports stadiums, airports and music venues. 5G might present lucrative business and consumer cases, yet there’s a lot of revenue still to be unlocked by deploying 4G. In-stadium services to enhance the fan experience, for example, or ad-supported media and entertainment mobile streaming on commuter trains.”

“There has been something of a rush among operators to claim 5G leadership, in a bid to avoid being a perceived laggard,” said Dr William Webb, IEEE Fellow and CEO of Weightless SIG. “This has unfortunately resulted in a number of premature launches. Initially, coverage will be very patchy – some areas in city centres may have a good connection but little elsewhere. For many, there may be no 5G coverage where they live and work for many years.

“Initial tariffs appear to be significantly higher than 4G, which looks unappealing given the limited 5G coverage. The basic 5G package has 5GB of data. If the promise of 200Mb/s is delivered on – and 5G is aiming for much higher – then this entire monthly allowance will last a total of 200 seconds!

“The only real benefit here is that 5G networks will be virtually empty, allowing congestion-free communications. This is a big advantage when you consider in places such as Waterloo, Kings Cross or other mainline train stations. While lower congestion is a valuable benefit, there is no sign of the services or applications that will deliver the well-documented changes to the way that we live and work that some have promised.”

“It will probably take two or three years for networks to settle down and deliver a solid performance. Only then will we see coverage become reliable and widespread enough to impact those who live or work in cities, and for handsets to be price-comparable with 4G. If EE continues at its current rollout rate of 100 base stations per month, it will take 16 years to upgrade its entire network.”

Every new generation of mobile technology suffers from an over-promising problem, but it’s arguably worse than ever with 5G. Everyone knows the full benefits of 5G are still years away, but that’s of no concern to the marketing departments of operators keen to capitalise on this once-in-a decade-opportunity. EE has done a great job on the hype, now let’s see how it does on the substance.

 

Faster isn’t always better – O2

With a new Opensignal report suggesting O2 has the slowest download speeds of the UK MNOs, the telco has hit back suggesting experience is about more than just speed.

According to the report, O2 has the largest proportion of customers experiencing slower speeds across the UK. This is down to a number of different factors, one of which is how spectrum holdings have shaped 4G deployment strategies.

The image below outlines what percentage of customers are experiencing different speeds across all the UK MNOs.

Openreach 1

While this might not paint the prettiest of pictures for O2, the telco has pointed out faster is not necessarily better.

“O2’s network deployment is focussed on customer experience and demand rather than maximum capabilities of certain aspects of network performance such as download speeds,” an O2 spokesperson said. “Some of the most popular mobile applications such as playing the game Fornite or streaming high definition content from Netflix require around 3-5 Mbps.”

Such is the obsession with speed, the entire telco industry is built on the concept of ‘bigger, faster, meaner’. Performance of telcos are measured on average speeds, however, one should perhaps question what speeds are necessary to produce the desired customer experience. Sometimes 10 Mbps is all that is required.

“We continue to invest £2m every day to improve the network experience for our customers as well as using a combination of technical and customer insight to gauge how well the network is performing and how satisfied customers are with their service. For the second year running O2 recently won uSwitch’s 2019 award for best network coverage as voted by the public and continues to have among the lowest levels of churn in Europe.”

In fairness to O2, you can’t argue with the numbers. In terms of market share, O2 is the leading telco in the UK. It must be doing something right otherwise how would it maintain this position? It isn’t the cheapest, the fastest or one which can offer any sort of convergence offering.

This second image from Opensignal indicates the spectrum holdings which are being utilised by each of the telcos.

Openreach 2

As you can see O2 is heavily reliant on the sub-1 GHz bands. The advantage of this band is greater range and better indoor coverage, though there is a trade-off when it comes to speed. And while some might complain about the lack of horse-power, it doesn’t seem to matter than much at the end of the day.

In the last financial results, O2 boasted of year-on-year revenue growth of 5.3%, a total subscription increase of 2.3% and customer churn of 0.9%, the lowest in the market, it claims.

What is worth noting is this is relevant for today. This might seem like an incredibly obvious statement, but developers are constantly bringing out new applications which test the boundaries of acceptability. Video and more immersive gaming content are ensuring demands on the network, and capable speeds, are a constant threat.

For the moment, this position from O2 seems perfectly sustainable, but how long the status quo lasts remains to be seen. Speed is not necessarily the defining factor of experience today, as long as fast is fast enough.

South Korea adds 260k 5G subscribers in one month

Sceptics will suggest consumer 5G launches will fall flat, an answer to a non-existent problem, but 260,000 subscriptions after one month suggests there is an appetite for 5G in South Korea.

Having jointly launched 5G services on April 3, the three South Korean operators are boasting total subscriptions of 260,000 according to Yonhap. This is not to say the service has been perfect, there have been plenty of problems for the telcos to deal with, but this was always going to be the case. The problem with being first is that you get to tell everyone else about the challenges.

“Many of the initial complaints raised by consumers are being addressed, but with more people using the system, other problems are expected to come to light that will require fixing,” the Ministry of Science and ICT said in a statement.

While much of the 5G attention has been directed towards the US and China, it is easy to overlook the progress which has been made in South Korea. This is the first country to have launched 5G at scale, with the Government boasting 54,202 base stations have not been deployed, up from 3,690 on April 22.

For the moment, coverage is limited to the more densely populated regions of the country, primarily in the capital Seoul, but progress is certainly impressive. Even puts the bragging telcos elsewhere to shame. South Korea has been trundling along without boasting too loudly and the success is quite clear.

Of course, what you have to remember is that scaling 5G in South Korea is a much simpler task than in other leading nations. As 5G makes use of shorter-range spectrum, network densification is a massive contributing factor to success, and you can see from the table below the task is a lot easier.

South Korea USA China
Population 51.47 million 327.17 million 1.4 billion
Land mass 100,363 km2 9,833,520 km2 9,596,961 km2
Population density 507/km2 32.8/km2 145/km2
GDP per capita $41,416 $62,518 $19,520

All four operators are awarded 5G licences in Japan, with security conditions attached

NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, Softbank, and Rakuten have all received the 5G licences they applied for, but they come with coverage obligations and security commitment.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications announced on 10 April (in Japanese) that all the four applicants have been awarded radio frequencies and licences to rollout 5G services. Each licensee is awarded 400MHz spectrum on the 28GHz frequency, while three of them are awarded 200MHz on 3.7GHz except Rakuten, which has requested 100MHz.

All the operators are going to roll out 5G services starting in 2020. NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Softbank will launch the service in spring time, with Rakuten planning to open its service in June. The total investment planned by the operators to the end of 2024 amounted to Yen 1.6 trillion ($14.4 billion).

While both NTT DoCoMo and KDDI have pledged to cover over 90% of the country within five years, Softbank only plans to cover 64% of the country and Rakuten 56%. The minimum requirement from the government is serving every prefecture within two years, and at least 50% of the whole country within five years, calculated by the number of geographical blocks the networks will cover out of the total 4,500 blocks the Ministry divides the country into.

In addition to coverage requirement, the Ministry has also attached a dozen granting conditions (pp.16-17 of the summary, in Japanese), including commitments to expand optical fibre networks (#2), to improve safety measures to minimise outage during natural disasters (#3), to prevent interference of existing radio licensees (#7) etc.

The item that may raise eyebrows is Item 4 on the list, which requires the operators to “take appropriate cyber security measures including measures to respond to supply chain risks” (unofficial translation). It refers to earlier regulations including the “”Information and telecommunications network safety and reliability standards” published by the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications in 1987, “Common Standards Group for Information Security Measures for Government Agencies and Related Agencies” issued by the National Information Security Center (NISC) in 2018, and the cross-departmental “Agreement on IT procurement policy and procedures for goods and services” published on 10 December 2018.

The last two documents, though neither of them names any particular countries or brands to be excluded, have been broadly recognised as the Japanese government’s decision to ban companies like Huawei and ZTE from public sector procurements. By invoking these regulations, it may not be too much of a stretch to read it as a message to the operators to stop using equipment supplied by the Chinese vendors. This may not cause serious disruptions to the operators’ business though, as Softbank, the only operator that has Huawei equipment on its network, is already planning to swap for Ericsson and Nokia, Nikkei reported earlier.

Japanese 5G licensees

Amazon gets into the satellite connectivity game

All the cool kids have low-orbit nanosatellites these days and Amazon is not about to miss out on the latest connectivity fad.

The news comes courtesy of some pro sniffing about from Geek Wire, which spotted a bunch of new filings made with the International Telecommunications Union last month via the FCC by a company called Kuiper Systems. The dogged hack followed his hunch and got in touch with Amazon to see if it was involved and got the following response.

“Project Kuiper is a new initiative to launch a constellation of low Earth orbit satellites that will provide low-latency, high-speed broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved communities around the world. This is a long-term project that envisions serving tens of millions of people who lack basic access to broadband internet. We look forward to partnering on this initiative with companies that share this common vision.”

It seems to be very early days for this project, but if Amazon’s behind it you can be sure it will be well funded. Furthermore Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has always had a thing for space and has his very own rocket company called Blue Origin. It’s too early to say whether Bezos will get Blue origin to launch the Amazon satellites but you’d presumably get short odds on it.

As we recently found out from talking to nanosatellite startup UbiquitiLink, low-orbit satellites are handy because they don’t suffer from the kind of latency issues regular geostationary ones do. However you need a lot more of them to achieve the same area of coverage, hence the whole nanosatellite thing.

Loads of other companies seem to be thinking this is a promising business to get into, mainly to provide connectivity to remote areas but, if you’ll excuse the pun, the sky’s the limit. It’s not immediately obvious what the return on investment is on lobbing a bunch of satellites into space to help people who live in the middle of nowhere get online, but they’ve presumably given it some thought and reckon the sums add up.

Farmers lobby group pushes for rural roaming

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has urged the UK Government and industry to push for a rural roaming mechanism to improve 4G coverage and close the digital divide.

While it might sound like a good idea to bridge the economic and societal chasm created by the digital divide, it is immensely unpopular when you talk to most of the operators. It would, theoretically, improve coverage across the rural communities of the UK, though telcos have suggested it would stifle investment and deployment plans.

“Since 2002 the CLA has been campaigning for a universal pledge on digital connectivity and we’re delighted to finally see this on broadband,” said CLA Deputy President Mark Bridgeman. “While we need to wait to see how this is met, great strides have been taken towards unlocking the potential of the rural economy.

“We need to learn the lessons from the successes with broadband where government and stakeholder consensus, as well as leadership by the regulator, achieved real wins for those who live or work in the countryside. There is no reason why a similar approach should not be applied to rural 4G, starting with forcing mobile operators to adopt rural roaming.”

The idea of rural roaming is a relatively simple one; subscribers would be able to use available 4G networks irrelevant of their own provider. This effectively means telcos would have to carry rival’s traffic without seeing any monetary gain for the effort.

The telcos themselves, or at least some of them, argue the idea of rural roaming would be a negative for network investment. A situation could be created where all the telcos are sitting on the starting line, each waiting for a competitor to make a move. Such is the pressure on CAPEX budgets, no-one would want to waste a penny, and why splash out on expensive infrastructure when you can just benefit from a competitor’s expenditure.

The CLA is not an organization which will care about the financial plight of the telcos, this is a lobby group which represents rural businesses and landowners, therefore this argument will be a moot point. That said, the Government will certainly be sensitive to the investment capabilities and ambitions of the telcos, especially considering the importance this segment will play in the future success of the economy.

In an effort to counter the rural roaming plug, the industry has reportedly offered an alternative. Using Ofcom as an independent adjudicator, a marketplace will be set-up allowing the telcos to trade physical assets. If O2, for example, want to put radio equipment on an EE mast, EE must be offered the same privilege in an area of interest as payment.

The argument from the telcos will be this does not ‘penalise’ proactive deployment, creating more value in rolling out infrastructure, whilst also creating the collaborative industry which the Government is keen to foster.

Should the Government want to pursue rural roaming, the telcos will have to be dragged into the room shouting and screaming. This does not seem to be the best approach to encourage investment, and we suspect a scheme more closely aligned to telcos alternative will bear fruit.

BT pleads for open access to street furniture

BT is attempting to rally the industry in an attempt to convince local authorities to ditch the current exclusive concessions model in UK cities in favour of an ‘Open Access Model’.

As it stands, many local authorities operate a concessions model which grant a single player exclusive access to council-owned street furniture, such as lamp posts, to place mobile network equipment. This might seem attractive to the councils from a revenue perspective, but BT is arguing this will be to the detriment of the digital economy in the long-run.

“While the concessions model made sense in the early 2010’s when it first came into common use, the market and regulatory landscape have changed, and it’s become clear that exclusivity agreements act as a barrier to further 4G and 5G investments,” said Paul Ceely, Director of Network Strategy for BT.

“Government initiatives such as the DCMS Barrier Busting taskforce are showing the way, but we believe that industry needs to act. We are leading the way by handing back exclusivity in nine key areas.”

BT currently operates nine exclusive concessions (Glasgow, Cardiff, Brighton, Plymouth, Carlisle, Newcastle/Gateshead, Nottingham, Gloucester and Leicester) and is proposing to end these contracts should the result be an open access environment. The new model would grant all mobile operators and infrastructure companies access to street furniture, paying the local authorities a flat, consistent rate.

Although it is not a new gripe, the bureaucratic and regulatory environment across the UK has once again been blamed for connectivity problems. Almost all the operators have had a moan at the red-tape wrapped regulatory landscape at one point or another, but an open access model would appear to be a sensible step forward to encourage improved mobile coverage and experience.

However, what should be worth noting is there are authorities who have made progress in this area without prompts from industry.

“One of the reasons why the West Midlands was chosen as the location for the UK’s first region-wide 5G test bed was our commitment as a region to do what it takes to work with operators to get the 5G networks we need built in the fastest, fairest and most cost effective way,” said Henry Kippin, Director of Public Service Reform at the West Midlands Combined Authority.

“The timing and spirit of this Open Access initiative is ideal as we will make faster progress through operators and public services working together to a shared agenda so that 5G can fulfil its full potential in driving economic growth that can benefit all our diverse communities.”

While some small-minded public servants might point to the lost revenue when ending the exclusive concessions, you have to look at the long-term benefits. The West Midlands is now home to numerous 5G test beds, R&D facilities and is home to hubs of excellence for emerging technologies.

Whether the local authorities pay attention to logic is an entirely different matter, but any suggestions to decrease the red-tape complications of UK bureaucracy should be welcomed by all.