Three of the UK’s four operators warned issues around planning permission for infrastructure and a lack of access to dark fibre risked derailing the government’s ambition for the country to be a leader in 5G.
During a panel at the Connected Britain event today (20 June), senior representatives from O2, 3 and Vodafone UK urged authorities to make sweeping improvements to planning laws and aid collaboration with private landlords to accelerate the 5G rollout process.
“We have a battle every single day when it comes to rolling out infrastructure,” 3 UK CEO David Dyson said. “The government has some bold goals when it comes to 5G, but this needs to be backed up by some genuinely bold decisions around how we can work with local planners [and] speed up the cost efficient deployment of next generation technology.”
O2 COO Derek McManus (pictured, left) added while recent government actions around the issue had helped, it was nowhere near enough.
“Britain was a pioneer of mobile technology, but without the right focus on 5G we risk squandering the benefits and risk losing the digital leadership we have worked so hard to establish,” McManus said. “We need to nail 5G before commercial launch.”
Lack of fibre
The other major barrier cited by the executives was the lack of access to dark fibre – infrastructure usually leased from incumbent fixed providers such as BT to be used in private networks by businesses and operators.
“Fibre in the UK is a critical element of 5G deployment”, McManus noted, adding the UK “still falls behind many of the developed nations.”
“We need that market to be developed and made more competitive.” He added O2 was disappointed by a recent decision by regulator Ofcom not to impose “unrestricted dark fibre products” on BT: “that’s an opportunity we have missed and could hold the UK back.”
Vodafone UK CSO Vishal Dixit (pictured, right) stated the lack of access to dark fibre “keeps me awake at night”, noting we “need real progress” on the issue and the other barriers holding back 5G deployment.
Also speaking on the panel, Ofcom group director for spectrum Philip Marnick praised the progress the UK’s operators had made so far and vowed to shape spectrum policy to create an environment enabling the UK’s innovators to thrive in the new 5G world.
Dixit said Vodafone UK would start 5G trials during Q4 2018 in seven cities: Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, London and Manchester.
On the same subject, McManus said O2 was on track to switch on a 5G test bed at the O2 Arena in London later this year and had similar plans in place for deployments across the UK.
Earlier in 2018, EE – the only operator not to take part in the Connected Britain debate – unveiled plans for a 5G trial in central London during October, while 3 UK plans its first field tests for early 2019.