UK rural collaboration back on the table

Getting competitors to work together for the greater good is a complex and often failed task, but the latest effort to address ‘not spots’ in the UK is holding steady.

Following a meeting with the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the CEOs of the four major UK MNOs have agreed, in theory, on a collaboration plan which will address the not spots in the UK. For those languishing in the rural regions of the UK, this news will come as a welcome boost to digital ambitions.

However, what is worth noting is this is not a done deal. Collaboration plans have fallen apart in the past, and there is still plenty of room for error.

The plan itself is one which is built on the idea of reciprocation. Instead of forcing the telcos to open up infrastructure to competitors, an idea which would be more beneficial to certain parties, or imposing a ‘national roaming’ initiative, the telcos are discussing two separate and parallel paths forward.

Firstly, one competitor would open up infrastructure to another should the same be done in return. This would reward telcos for (1) investing in the rural communities and (2) working alongside a rival. Building a mast could compound coverage gains with reciprocal agreements. This is more for the areas where users have limited choice in providers.

Secondly, the areas which do not fall into the footprint of any telco. The four telcos are proposing the creation of a new company which would focus on building infrastructure in the not-spots. This infrastructure would be accessible to all telcos, potentially filling-in the digital voids throughout the countryside.

BT’s rural position is nothing more than defensive strategy

BT has unveiled its own proposals to bridge the rural divide, but this strategy is just as much about protecting its own attractive position as it is connecting the unconnected.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph earlier this week, BT’s consumer CEO Marc Allera outlined the vision for a digital society where everyone reaps the benefits. BT is proposing infrastructure tit-for-tat in the regions where there is coverage from at least one of the UK MNOs, and a more simplistic infrastructure sharing proposal in the genuine not-spots.

Both ideas are completely reasonable, and both are geared towards protecting a competitive edge for BT, created through years of mobile infrastructure expansion.

Although there are arguments that rural roaming or network sharing propositions would slow down investment and the rollout of mobile infrastructure, following the money is perhaps a better means to understand BT’s underlying strategy. With every change made in the telco landscape, there is financial gain and loss. When BT proposes an idea, you must question what the financial gain or loss is.

The reason Allera is making noise through the mainstream press right now is due to the negative PR the company attracted a couple of weeks back. O2, Vodafone and Three proposed an infrastructure sharing initiative, which was promptly rejected by BT, painting the picture of a spoilt child having a hissy fit because he has been told to share his favourite toy train. However, when you delve into the details, you see BT’s rejection was a sound commercial decision.

In short, the trio of competitors proposed opening-up current mobile infrastructure, forcing any mast owners to allow competitors to place radio equipment on the structure in areas which have been deemed underserved. This sounds fantastic for the consumer and the Government’s ambition of 95% geographical 4G coverage by 2022, but it effectively erodes the position BT/EE has spent years attempting to craft.

BT/EE has the best mobile coverage throughout the UK. This is not only average speed, but geographical spread. Some might dispute this point, but year after year test from the likes of Opensignal and Ookla crown EE the champion. This has allowed it to tell customers they will be able to get fantastic signal almost everywhere in the UK, an advantage over rival MNOs.

The cost when it comes to expanding 4G coverage is not necessarily anything to do with the radio equipment, but everything else. Acquiring the land, negotiating local planning laws, constructing the site, wiring it up with fibre and electricity, the raw materials and the man power, all add up to make an expensive proposition. It’s no wonder telcos want to open competitor’s masts as opposed to building it themselves. It’s much faster and significantly cheaper to simply pay an engineer to fix radio equipment to an existing mast.

Should the trio’s proposal of collaboration be accepted, this would effectively kill this advantage and completely undermine a long-term commercial strategy. No competent business person would agree to such an initiative, especially considering how much it would have cost.

Now take into consideration the BT alternative.

Firstly, in the areas where there is only one telco present, BT would allow one of its rivals to use its infrastructure, but only if the competitor opens one of its own masts to BT. This creates the collaborative framework legislators and regulators are keen to see but protects BT’s competitive edge, and prior investments, and allows it to enhance its own coverage footprint. Yes, it does help a rival, but the pros outweigh (or at least equal) the cons, and it doesn’t allow competitors to bypass the process BT/EE would have painfully gone through in the past.

This would be the idea for areas where there is a telco present, but for the genuine not spots, where none of the MNOs can provide service, a more straightforward infrastructure sharing agreement can be created. All four would contribute to a pot and all would be free to put whatever radio equipment on the mast.

This does not necessarily encourage competition, but these not spots offer very little commercial potential to anyone. Extending coverage to these areas is not about providing a service to customers but meeting the coverage expectations of the Government. Sheep don’t pay phone bills after all, but occasionally a rambler might want to Instagram said sheep.

While this might not sound like the ‘we’re all in this together’ rhetoric which has been banded around, realistically this very few people would think contrary to this position. These are commercial businesses which are in place to compete with rivals and make money. BT might be spinning their argument to suggest such collaborative schemes would slow down infrastructure rollout, but 99% of decisions in big business always come down to money.

Why would BT want to help its competitors compete in a market which is incredibly difficult to find profits in the first place?

Microsoft suggests FCC is telling Porky Pai’s

New Microsoft research suggests the digital divide in the US is much more prominent than any of the politicians, who are supposedly fixing the problem, would let you believe.

The digital divide is one of the most active political ping-pong balls in recent years, with US politicians seemingly using the desirability of bufferless cat videos to gain support in some of the country’s poorest communities. If you believe what the FCC has been telling the media, this disparity has been getting smaller, though it is still large.

The Microsoft research suggests very little or no progress is being made and the FCC is misleading US citizens.

Looking at the statistics, the FCC claims the digital divide currently stands at 22 million across the US. The threshold seems to be what many would consider basic broadband speeds. With so much of the world become digitized it is critical every person is not only granted access to new opportunities, but also allowed to continue using basic services (such as banking) which are increasingly moving into the digital world.

Looking at the Microsoft research, the team is suggesting around half of US citizens, 162 million, are not using the internet at broadband speeds. The difference between the two numbers is quite staggering, and while it does question to competence at the FCC, the answer might be a bit simpler; it’s all a game of politics.

When looking at the figures it is important to understand the FCC estimates on the digital divide are based on those individuals who can theoretically access the internet. There might be various other reasons why they do not, price for example, but these factors do not seem to be considered. Why you might ask? We suspect it is not politically convenient.

If you look at the last US election campaign trail, the idea of the digital divide was a hot topic. Both President Trump and the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton suggested tackling the issue would be a high priority for their administrations, buying favour in communities which could (and eventually did) turn the tide in the election.

The FCC is a body which is funded via the pockets of the tax payer, therefore it does have to demonstrate it is fulfilling the objectives set out before it. Holding telcos accountable to theoretically offering broadband access is a much simpler job than ensuring these business price it at a cost which would be deemed accessible.

The Microsoft research is based on those who are using the internet at speeds which would be deemed relevant to broadband. Slow broadband could be deemed as bad a no broadband in some cases, with websites timing out or taking so long to load little could be achieved. With this in mind, stories about kids making use of McDonalds wifi to do homework start to make sense.

As you can see from the graph below, wired technologies do generally take a lot longer to reach 100%, especially in a country which is as vast and varied as the US, though broadband has been sluggish in recent years.

Broadband Adoption

But before you start to congratulate Microsoft too much, you must take into account its position is also political, or perhaps PR-drowned is more accurate. One of Microsoft’s more prominent CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) initiatives is closing the digital divide. If the problem is much worse than people originally imagined, the corporation coming in to help looks much more glorious.

On both side of the coin you have to take the claims with a pinch of salt. The FCC will continue to make bold statements on progress to ensure favourable light is shed on the Trump administration at a time where the White House will be starting to consider the next election, while Microsoft has a lot to gain commercially through the Airband Initiative, a five-year commitment to bring broadband access to two million unserved US citizens living in rural communities.

Microsoft is not wrong, and we suspect the way it is judging the digital divide is more accurate (usage vs. theoretical accessibility), but it always worth remembering there is always something to gain.

O2 commits to plugging 339 farmer Johns into the digital economy

O2 has announced it will start pumping enhanced 4G into some of most notorious not-spots throughout the UK, with 339 communities set to receive the connectivity boost.

While the digital divide is clearly still present across the UK, it does seem O2 is attempting to make use of 4G spectrum acquired in the last auction to counter the imbalance. The last 12 months has certainly seen O2 up its game on the connectivity front, Ofcom confirmed O2 had delivered against its commitment to provide 98% indoor 4G coverage and 90% geographical coverage across the UK earlier this year, and this appears to be a continuation of the positive work. O2 has stated in intends to improve the 4G experience for an additional 339 communities of more than 100 people across the UK by the end of the year.

“We know mobile has the power to make a real, positive difference to people’s lives and businesses in rural communities across Britain,” said O2 UK COO Derek McManus. “That’s why we’re proud to be investing in 4G connectivity for more than 330 rural areas by the end of this year. Technology never stands still, which is why we are always looking for the right partners and investing in our future network. Whether trialling 5G to support a future-proof, mobile Britain, or ensuring the remotest parts of rural Britain can connect to 4G, for O2, this is about continuing to invest in all areas – not one at the cost of the other.”

“4G coverage is improving all the time, but there’s more to do, particularly in rural areas,” said Digital Minister Margot James. “We’ve already reformed planning laws to make it easier and cheaper to install and upgrade digital infrastructure, and it’s great to see O2 and the rest of industry responding to ensure more people in rural Britain can share the brilliant benefits of 4G connectivity.”

Thanks partly to an enhanced mobile experience, O2 has pointed to a report from Development Economics which suggests tourism, transport and manufacturing segments could receive a financial boost with improved connectivity. Perhaps this is one of the most notorious statistics associated with the digital divide, but Development Economics predicts connectivity parity could add as much as £141 million a year to the 14,000 rural businesses who are missing out on the full digital experience.

Although this is a positive step forward, let’s not forget O2 has a lot of catching up to do, it certainly isn’t uncommon to see the brand slumping at the bottom of the mobile performance rankings. Opensignal’s most recent report assessing the performance of the four UK MNOs had O2 sat in last place for all categories aside from latency (3G and 4G) and availability, where it was second behind EE. Back in August, Rootmetrics also had O2 at the bottom of the pile for almost every category.

The performance of the network is certainly a dent in the O2 pride, but it has still managed to claim top-spot in the market share leagues. Although MNOs should stride towards creating the best possible experience for customers, O2’s top and bottom standings demonstrate buying decisions are more than performance orientated. The big differentiator between O2 and rest of the UK MNOs is its loyalty programme, Priority, which does appear to be paying dividends, while Giffgaff is still proving a successful venture to attract a new SIM-only audience. Such is the success of Giffgaff over the last few years, Three has creating its own version in Smartie, while Vodafone has launched Voxi.

That said, building the customer experience in rural areas of the UK will only add to the success of the telco, creating a more interesting proposition for customers which might have ignored the brand in the past. O2 has been swimming against the tide when it comes to convergence trends, choosing to focus exclusively on mobile, a decision which is increasingly looking justified.

Government research suggests digital divide plans might actually be working

When you compare the digital divide to other countries around the world, it looks like nothing more than a minor crack in the UK. That said, it is still there and new research suggests it is getting smaller.

Before you give the mish-mash-of-no-one-wants-jobs Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport too much credit, you have to bear in mind this is research which has been funded and influenced by the department itself. That said, government initiatives do seem to have spurred on the lethargic Openreach/BT into action in the countryside taking the number of households which are able to access superfast broadband across the UK to 95.39%.

“Our rollout of superfast broadband across the UK has been the most challenging infrastructure project in a generation but is one of our greatest successes,” said Minister for Digital, Margot James. “We are reaching thousands more homes and businesses every week, that can now reap the clear and tangible benefits that superfast broadband provides. We are helping to ensure the downfall of the digital divide.”

In terms of closing the digital divide, it is worth reminding ourselves every now and then what this actually means. It is more than simply cat videos streaming faster than a laser pointer on the carpet, but accessibility to education and employment opportunities. With businesses increasingly reliant on the internet for everyday processes such as cloud-based services and infrastructure, connectivity decides whether a company opens up an office in one place or another, or the competitiveness of a regional. Functional companies create jobs, which dominos success throughout the local economy.

The initiative was first launched 2010/11 in response to concerns commercial deployment of superfast broadband would fail to reach areas which were not deemed commercially attractive. Backed by £530 million of subsidies (and an additional £250 in 2015), telcos were enticed to rollout out relevant infrastructure, though early years were plagued with claims BT was rebuilding its monopoly with public funds as it won the majority of early contracts. While the criticism of BT’s dominance continues to be an issue for some, it is worth noting £500 million in subsidies has been returned to the public purse due to uptake being higher than expected.

In terms of the impact on local firms, the report estimates postcodes benefitting from subsidised coverage saw employment rise by 0.8% and turnover grow by 1.2% in response to improved infrastructure. This has resulted in an additional 49,000 jobs for local economies, plus an additional £9 billion in annual revenues. When looking at productivity gains, better connectivity essentially means each employee makes an additional £1,390 per year on average for the firm.

Government Table One

As you can see from the tables above, the ‘other’ regions are still growing at a faster rate, though you have to question how big the digital divide would be today without the telcos being ‘encouraged’ to invest in rural areas with government subsidies. Growth is a positive, as it would be a fair assumption the statistics would be in decline without improved connectivity.

Education and health and social work were the sectors which really benefited here (worker turnover increased 4.7% and 3.7% respectively), though subsidised coverage raised turnover per worker in the manufacturing sector by around 0.8%. With improved connectivity now in place in the manufacturing space the opportunity to demonstrate further benefits through IoT and smart-factory environments is much more apparent. The manufacturing segment might be a slow-burner with the next wave of technological advancements proving to be the gamechanger.

With a benefit to cost ratio of £1.96 per £1 of gross public sector spending, it is difficult to argue with the success here. Yes, the numbers could be better, though as the report states the net benefits of the programme does not include any value associated with the future use of the infrastructure, you could conclude the value has been considerably underplayed. Governments do not often earn plaudits, but this does genuinely seem like an initiative which has been well managed, delivering on the stated promises.

Work is not complete on closing the digital divide, the South West for instance is still underserved for example, though it is difficult to argue that the government hasn’t done a bad job overall.

US appeals court tells FCC that poor people are allowed broadband

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has lost a skirmish in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals following moves from the watchdog attempting to remove a broadband subsidy for low income families in Tribal areas.

The removal of the Lifeline subsidy has been a contentious decision from Pai and his Republican cronies leading the FCC since it was announced in November last year, though the courts have now blocked it. While there has been strong resistance from the likes of Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn (now former), this is a notable win for Democratic leaning politicians and public servants, as the momentum has been favouring the Pai movement in recent months.

“Petitioners have demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of their arguments that the facilities-based and rural areas limitations contained in the Order are arbitrary and capricious,” the order states. “In particular, petitioners contend that the Federal Communications Commission failed to account for a lack of alternative service providers for many tribal customers.”

While the FCC proved there would not be a ‘mass disconnection’ in the regions should the subsidy be removed, the court has pointed to a lack of competition in the region. These are areas which are traditionally underserved, with the subsidy going some way to aid connectivity, as a watchdog and public-funded organization, surely this is one of the fundamental objectives; to assist and serve US citizens where necessary; clearly Pai disagrees.

The original plan from the FCC was to ban the subsidy from being used to purchase broadband services from resellers, though it could be used with network owners. Removing this $25 subsidy would have left the applicants with only a $9.25 option, which the courts did not deem sufficient. Without the option of purchasing services through resellers, competition would be drastically reduced and the opportunity for market abuse would be rife.

The case, which was initially brought to the courts by the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe and Oceti Sakowin Tribal Utility Authority, while also being supported by several non-profits, creates a useful precedent in those opposing the Pai reign. Although Pai is seemingly attempting to scale back all regulation, intervention and market influence at the FCC, the coalition suing were able to demonstrate changes to the FCC’s Lifeline programme would result in people losing telecom service; Pai opponents throughout the US will be looking at this case with much interest.

One interesting point which can be taken from the ruling is that less regulation and market intervention will not necessarily lead to investment.

“Furthermore, the Federal Communications Commission has not shown that the historical record supports its assertion that these new requirements will encourage development of communications infrastructure in underserved areas, thus preventing mass disconnection.”

The principles of the Republican leaning officials is less regulation offers market freedoms and room to innovate. Removing red tape would actually encourage telcos to invest in the infrastructure the country so desperately needs, though it seems the court does not agree with this theory. This rhetoric has fuelled the scaling back of power and influence at the FCC, though such comments from the court will certainly take a bit of the wind out of the Pai sails.

Alphabet’s blue sky thinkers pen first Loon deal in Kenya

The Loon team have signed its first commercial deal with Telkom Kenya to deploy a pilot 4G network in suburban and rural areas of the country.

Having dropped the ‘Project’ part of the name, the Loon team now operates as an independent company within the Alphabet business, and does not look that ridiculous any more. Why didn’t anyone else figure out balloons would be an efficient means to deliver connectivity to some of the world’s more difficult not spots.

“As Loon, our mission is to connect people everywhere by inventing and integrating audacious technologies,” said Alastair Westgarth, CEO of Loon. “We couldn’t be more excited to start our journey in Kenya, and we look forward to working with mobile network partners worldwide to deliver on the promise of Loon.”

The deal with Telkom Kenya will kick off in 2019, and is being touted by the team as an alternative to the expensive job of building ground-based infrastructure. The balloons will be 60,000 feet in the air, on the edge of space, focusing on the central regions of Kenya which have been previously difficult to service, due to mountainous and inaccessible terrain. The exact coverage areas will be determined in the coming months, and subject to the requisite regulatory approvals.

“Telkom is focused on bringing innovative products and solutions to the Kenyan market,” said Telkom Kenya CEO Aldo Mareuse. “With this association with Loon, we will be partnering with a pioneer in the use of high altitude balloons to provide LTE coverage across larger areas in Kenya. We will work very hard with Loon, to deliver the first commercial mobile service, as quickly as possible, using Loon’s balloon-powered Internet in Africa.”

Alphabet is a company which certainly does specialise in absurd ideas, though this is one of the few moon-shots which looks to have genuine potential in the near future. Although it has been used to help provide connectivity in regions struck by natural disasters, this is one of the first signs of the long-term and sustainable presence of Loon. For telcos who are considering satellite as a means to tackle the rural not spots, Loon could certainly provide a more cost and time effective means to meet demand.

Back in October, Alphabet was given permission to use 30 experimental balloons to provide connectivity to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, which have been ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, leaving around 90% of the territories without coverage. While temporary coverage following natural disasters will be a continued use case for Loon, executives will certainly be comforted they don’t have to sit around and wait for a natural disaster to hit.

Alphabet is one of the internet giants which has been consistently searching for ways to diversify the business model, though this is not the first time connectivity was a major play. US telcos might have been relieved to see the end of the Google Fibre experiment, though this venture looks to be far more sustainable for Alphabet. Should the Telkom Kenya project be successful, Loon will start to attract interest around the world.

FCC kicks off rural broadband auction

The FCC has giving the greenlight for the Connect America Fund Phase II reverse auction, with the window for applications ending on March 30.

With $1.98 billion available over the next decade to support the closing of the digital divide across the US. Officially known as Auction 903, the initiative aims to bring broadband to as many as 1 million homes and small businesses across 20 states which are deemed to be underserved at the moment.

“This is a unique opportunity for broadband providers to expand their service,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “More important, this is a unique opportunity to bring digital opportunity to parts of rural America that have been bypassed by the broadband revolution. So I hope that all eligible providers will give this opportunity a hard look and choose to participate.”

Applicants to the fund will have to demonstrate they can do the most with the smallest amount of investment if they are to be successful. The tables below demonstrate how the FCC will distribute the funding against performance standards. But as a general rule, the more offered and the lower the applied for funding, the more interested the FCC will be.

Rural

In terms of the deployment, successful applicants must offer commercially at least one voice and one broadband service meeting the relevant service requirements to the required number of locations. When it comes to milestones, 40% of the required number of locations must meet the service performance metrics by the end of the third year, plus an additional 20% per year after that, before hitting 100% by the end of the 10 year period.

And just to make sure the farmers aren’t getting ripped off, the FCC will continue to benchmark the offered rates against the urban equivalent. You can see the methodology the FCC uses to judge want would be considered reasonable rates here. Those who do not meet the milestones or offer what would be considered reasonable rates will face the threat of legal action as the FCC promises to recover the funds.

Closing the digital divide between the rural and urban communities is a challenge which has plagued the FCC and US government for some time, and we would be surprised if this funding makes a significant difference. As long as the major telcos are trying to recoup lost profits, the focus will be on the more profitable regions of the US.

Virgin Media to connect the unconnected, if the price is right

Virgin Media has announced it will roll out its broadband offering to 12 villages in the Test and Dun Valley area, as it sets its sights on tackling the rural connectivity challenge, just as long as it’s not too risky.

The move will come as a bit of a concern for Openreach which has largely enjoyed a competition-free environment in the countryside due to the expensive job of delivering connectivity. Whether the introduction of an alternative service will force Openreach to actually start spending on its network remains to be seen, but it would not be a surprise to see a Virgin Media push elsewhere in the future.

“We are extremely excited about our ultrafast broadband expansion in the Test and Dun Valleys – this is a new way of delivering our gigabit-ready network,” said Rob Evans, Managing Director of the Virgin Media Lightning Programme. “This has been a brilliant example of us working hand in hand with the local community to deliver a solution which works for us both.  We look forward to doing more of these in the future.”

The last couple of months have seen small steps towards closing the digital divide, not only from Virgin Media but also Vodafone. Vodafone has committed to rolling out fibre networks in 12 cities and larger towns which are deemed as being underserved as another challenge to the Openreach cartel, though you have to give credit to Virgin Media for tackling less commercially attractive areas. But not too much credit though.

While Vodafone has committed to rolling out full-fibre networks in these 12 cities irrelevant of pre-determined demand, Virgin Media is taking the less risky approach. No work will take place until the telco can guarantee the countryside dwellers will swell its back accounts. It might be trying to paint the picture of the hero coming to the rescue, but this hero’s work does not come for free.

For Virgin Media to even think about bothering with the famers there would have to be registered interest from 30% of the residents. But this interest is only table stakes, for any work to actually happen there would have to be a financial commitment. In this example, 1,000 residents across the Test and Dun Valley area had to fully-commit to becoming a Virgin Media customer.

This should of course not be seen as an unusual business practise, it is trying to minimize risk which is sensible, but don’t take the hero image too seriously. The grand plan should also be taken with a pinch of salt.

Virgin Media notes that the area did not initially meet usual commercial requirements for expansion, due to the rural environment and a lack of significant broadband infrastructure already being in place. This might well turn out to be the exceptional rather than the rule, an exercise for the PR department to get a few nice photos and headlines, as Virgin Media seemingly searches for the regions where the upgrade work wouldn’t be that difficult.

So if you live in an area where there are slow connection speeds, broadband infrastructure already in place and it isn’t too rural, Virgin Media might be coming to your rescue before too long. You’ll also have to round-up some support to offer the telco a guaranteed payment, otherwise there might not be any interest.

The whole image looks a bit less like an Arthurian night riding into the sunset to tackle the evil dragon and more like a wild-west bounty hunter on the search for the next payday. Not necessarily a bad thing, but don’t get fooled by the philanthropic messaging.

Vodafone goes mini on the big question of rural connectivity

5G might be the hot topic for 2018, but Vodafone’s successful trial of a new 4G mini mobile mast reminds us the telcos haven’t finished their 4G mission just yet.

The trial itself took place in Porthcurno on the southern Cornish coast of the UK, with the team claiming to have demonstrated mobile data speeds of more than 200Mbps, as well as a strong voice signal. What these speeds actually look like when the mast is available for use of the general public remain to be seen, but it is certainly a positive step forward for the digital have-nots of the UK.

The telescopic mini mast is eight metres high when extended to its tallest point, roughly half the height of a traditional mast. It takes six months to get up and running, a third of the time with the full-size masts, and does not require a technology cabinet to house the power supply and electronics.

“We’re working hard to connect customers across the UK and our new mini mast will help provide 4G in places where other networks struggle to reach, while minimising the visual and environmental impact,” said Vodafone UK’s Chief Technology Officer Scott Petty.

“It forms part of our major investment in our network and services to provide our customers reliable coverage where they live, work and travel.”

The mini mast at Vodafone HQ when we visited last year

The mini mast at Vodafone HQ when we visited last year

When telcos such as Vodafone are simultaneously launching gigacities while also trialling product to bring basic 4G connectivity to rural locations, you can see why there is frustrations from the farmers. Mobile World Congress is just around the corner, where the imminent commercial launch of 5G will be a crucial talking point, but the people Porthcurno have just been gifted the glories of strong voice signal for the first time. The contrast is quite striking.

Some sceptical individuals might think the digital divide is nothing more than a myth created by those troublesome activists who love finding new sticks to beat the telcos, but those individuals are likely to be the ones who rarely venture outside of the M25. Abysmal connectivity in some communities across the UK is an equation the telcos have never been able to balance, as the lucrative urban environments will always win out in the profit-hungry boardrooms.

“The quality of mobile phone signal in West Cornwall is a subject that is regularly raised with me, as is the need to protect and preserve our countryside,” said Derek Thomas, MP for West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. “This new mast offers the opportunity to reduce the visual impact of phone masts, whilst addressing people’s desire for improved connectivity.”

The fact it is Vodafone launching such an offering should come as little surprise. While it has been known as one of the better performers in the capital, Vodafone is commonly associated with poor signal and performance anywhere else.

The mini mast is a good idea from Vodafone and serves as a timely reality check for those who are getting swept up in the 5G euphoria. This might be the technology which will keep the telcos above the rising tide of utilization, but the 4G rollout is not finished yet.