Earlier this year, the Government’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review recommended that Ofcom should consider a more flexible approach to licensing for those parts of the radio spectrum to be used by 5G networks. Such arrangements are already in place in Germany, France, Italy, US and Sweden to underpin innovation, support the development of new applications and encourage market-entry for independent network operators.
The current spectrum licensing policy has been designed around the needs of the four major mobile network operators and fails to provide any incentive to build the networks needed for the future. The result is that UK’s mobile network performance is badly behind the rest of the world, having slower speeds than Armenia and Mexico, as reported by OpenSignal in February this year.
Fixing this has never been more important. The fourth industrial revolution has digitised organisations across the country, in every sector and of every size, making the UK the leading technology country in Europe. If this status is to be maintained, the country must have world-class 5G connectivity. Without it, the economic consequences will be huge. Commenting on the impact of having a second-rate 5G network, Douglas McWilliams, economist and author of ‘The Flat White Economy’, said: “By 2030, unless we catch up with the best in class, the impact on GDP could be as much as a quarter.”
To build the world-class 5G networks the country requires, spectrum needs to be made available on a shared, lightly licensed and unlicensed basis, at low or no cost, by region. Reforming spectrum licensing in this way would allow market entry for innovative and agile network operators like Optimity, whose millimetre wave wireless network already supplies businesses across London with ultra-fast internet connectivity without the need to dig-up the roads to install fibre.
Impey commented “I am calling on Ofcom to urgently consider a more flexible approach to licensing to enable innovation and growth of 5G networks in the UK. The country needs world-class 5G coverage to support the huge demand that is just around the corner, with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, automation, augmented reality and a whole host of other technologies that are set to transform the nation’s economy. Reforming spectrum allocation will stimulate investment, encourage innovation and support market-entry by new, agile network operators, like Optimity. Without it, the UK will be unable to realise the productivity and growth benefits that new technology offers and will undoubtably jeopardise our global competitive advantage.”
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