There is no straight answer to this question. The scale of the risks and opportunities for the telecoms industry depends on the future relationship between the UK, the EU and the rest of the world. The ramifications of decades of EU legislation, policies and initiatives in the UK system are difficult to untangle. However, it is possible to identify immediate concerns for the industry and how these could be tackled.
Ending a long period of negotiations with Ofcom, BT announced today its voluntary agreement to legally separate from Openreach. Ofcom confirmed that “it will no longer need to impose these changes through regulation” as initially proposed last year and welcomed BT’s decision. This is a significant reform for the BT Group as Openreach will now become a distinct company with its own staff, brand and Board which will be able to make independent decisions on strategic investments affecting other telecoms providers.
Chancellor Philip Hammond delivered his Budget 2017 speech today, reiterating the Government’s objective to put the UK “at the forefront of the global technology revolution”. The Chancellor announced further details on the £23 billion National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) presented in the Autumn Statement and on the new Government 5G Strategy launched today.
The European Commission published last week its annual Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), ranking EU countries according to their performance in areas such as connectivity, digital skills, use of the internet by citizens, the digitisation of businesses, and digital public services. The UK moved from 6th place to 7th this year behind Denmark, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. Although the UK progressed well in terms of coverage and take-up of superfast broadband connections, other countries have moved faster, encouraging their citizens and businesses to use internet services made available to them.
The Government today launched its Digital Strategy that aims to create “a world-leading digital economy that works for everyone”. The overarching goals of making Britain the best place to start and grow a digital business, trial a new technology, or undertake advanced research are admirable and ones that the BSG supports.
As BT, Ericsson and King’s College London announced today a collaboration initiative on 5G testing and development, communications infrastructure Arqiva and Samsung Electronics announced a partnership agreement to develop the first field trial of and end-to-end 5G Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) network capable of delivering ultrafast speeds (1GBit/s) and a more reliable connectivity to multiple devices. The trial will demonstrate the potential of 5G FWA as an alternative to Fibre to the Home and Fibre to the Building.
Comparison website Broadband Genie published today the results of its annual survey, rating broadband providers for their customer and technical support, value for money, reliability and speed satisfaction. The overall winner this year is Plusnet, ahead of Virgin Media (last year’s winner), Sky, EE, BT, and TalkTalk.
Ofcom published yesterday an update on its activities to facilitate the deployment of 5G networks within the next few years. 5G services, which are designed to enhance the mobile broadband experience, boost the evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) and provide more reliable communications, are dependent on the relevant network infrastructure and spectrum bands.
Born from the need to address the UK’s productivity gap and provide a plan for the UK post-Brexit, Government issued yesterday its proposed Modern Industrial Strategy outlining its vision to “improve living standards and economic growth by increasing productivity and driving growth”. Government will be consulting on these proposals until 17 April 2017.
Just before Christmas, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published Connected Future, looking at what the UK needs to do to become a ‘world leader in 5G deployment’.
The media reporting focussed on the revelations that the UK’s 4G coverage is worse than that of Albania and Peru (a claim since questioned by Ofcom) and hailed 5G as the opportunity to put things right.
Last week the DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government) introduced in Parliament a Local Government Finance Bill offering full fibre infrastructure providers a £60million saving. This is part of the Government’s measures announced in the Autumn Statement, to boost UK digital connectivity. The Bill sets out the detail on a new 100% business rates relief on new full-fibre infrastructure for a 5-year period from 1 April 2017. This tax relief is designed to support the roll-out of full fibre to more homes and businesses and to “help get the UK ready for 5G”.
The Chancellor in his Autumn Statement heralded investment of over £1bn aimed at stimulating more fibre rollout and to realise the Government’s ambition ‘for the UK to be a world leader in 5G’ next generation mobile networks. The BSG, techUK and INCA are inviting you to join us on Thursday 12 January (9.30am-1pm at techUK) to hear from officials from the Treasury and DCMS, and to participate in a discussion on the framing and next steps on the initiative.
Government announced yesterday that £440m will be reinvested in deploying superfast broadband connections to 600,000 extra premises. The cash boost is a result of efficiency savings (£150m) and the BDUK clawback mechanism (reinvestment of subsidies when people take up superfast connections covered by the programme – meaning that BT will be releasing £292m).
Ofcom’s Connected Nations shows improving picture of superfast broadband coverage and take-up though 1.4 million premises are still falling behindsamiragazzane
Ofcom published today its annual Connected Nations report, showing progress on the availability and performance of fixed broadband and mobile services received by UK households and businesses. On the basis of data collected in June 2016, Ofcom found that coverage of broadband networks for households and businesses has improved across the UK. However, Ofcom emphasised those premises located in rural areas (including SMEs) are lacking access to “acceptable broadband speeds”.
Ofcom today published their technical advice to Government on the design of a broadband Universal Service Obligation. Ofcom were instructed to deliver its “views, evidence-based analysis and…recommendations” by John Whittingdale, then Secretary of State for DCMS, in March 2016. It has certainly delivered on the first two although in making clear that designing a USO is complex, it only offers a few recommendations. It will now be up to Government to make some of the thornier policy choices.