8th October 2018
In July this year the Government department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport published their Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review. Following on from the enactment of the Digital Economy Act 2017, this review is the next step in the Government's ambitions for the UK to be seen as a world leader in Digital Connectivity.
The Government stated ambition is for the UK to be a world leader in 5G technology and to "provide world class digital connectivity that is gigabit capable, reliable, long lasting and widely available across the UK – and to do so at pace".
The review goes on to state that the Government is looking to ensure that the UK has the telecommunications infrastructure to meet the growing demands of both consumers and businesses but it also recognises that parts of the country are likely to need more support in that regard. As the next generation of mobile technology, 5G will offer new capabilities far beyond existing mobile technology. It is a different beast from its predecessors in 2G, 3G and 4G technology and it promises to deliver higher data rates, lower latency, higher energy efficiency and improved performance.
Much of the future telecoms infrastructure review paper focuses on the mobile market and the policies and market conditions that are required to encourage investment in the sector. However, it does also contain an interesting insight into how it is anticipated that 5G will be different from the previous generations of mobile technology. Previous generations were aimed at providing a wide area coverage for voice and data. 5G is more complex designed to meet the evolving requirements of a greater variety of end users.
The main difference between 5G and its predecessors is that 5G is designed to support multiple applications including enhanced mobile broadband, massive machine type communications, and ultra-reliable and low latency communications. This covers such applications as smart buildings, smart cities, driverless vehicles, industry automation, robotics, logistics and smart agriculture.
5G is due to launch in the UK in 2019 and is likely to require a higher quantity of small cells, rather than the traditional macro sites. Significant investment will, however, be required to ensure the roll outs achieve the stated Government ambitions.
Recent reforms in planning legislation, and the introduction of the new Electronic Communications Code in the 2017 Digital Economy Act, were designed to make it easier and cheaper to build mobile networks. However, the short term effect of the introduction of these reforms has led to some market uncertainty, and the Government has stated in its recent review that it will consider a formal review of the ECC reforms to assess its impact.
The Government has launched a 5G Test Beds and Trials Programme funding six projects that bring together existing telecoms players with industry sectors to explore different connectivity solutions and also business models.
In Scotland the test bed is the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed, a joint venture specifically designed to explore 5G benefits for rural communities and industry including agriculture.
Many market commentators perceive that smart agriculture is one of the main areas that will benefit from 5G technology and the opportunities made available via the Internet of Things.
It is widely thought that access to 5G technology will assist in such diverse areas as tracking the weather, tracking animal movements, and using data gathered by sensors in the soil or on farm machinery to assist with crops.
Many perceive that 5G technology will primarily lead to enhanced benefits within an urban environment, in the context of smart buildings and driverless cars.
However, this is such a revolutionary and wide ranging technology that it needs to be harnessed for the benefit of rural communities as well. 5G and the Internet of Things could be a real opportunity for this sector to contribute to the Government's global ambitions to be a leader in this field.
Gillian Cowie is Head of Telecoms and Partner at Wright, Johnston & Mackenzie LLP, 302 St Vincent Street, Glasgow G2 5RZ.
She can be contacted on 0141 248 3434 or by email: email@example.com
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