Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, said it is “lamentable” the country’s fibre penetration rates are so low, as he also bemoaned the legal battles which threaten to delay availability of 5G.

5G woes
The executive reiterated Vodafone UK supports recommendations made by Ofcom for the issue of frequencies which could be used for 5G deployments, in the face of legal challenges from rivals BT/EE and 3 UK.

Describing the technology as “an important national infrastructure that underpins future growth, and is important in a post-Brexit world, and all those other things,” he said “any operator that is delaying either through slightly selfish objectives, or wider concerns that delay the implementation of 5G anyway, is bad for the country.”

“All companies should be able to bid for the spectrum they need to run their business. Those that can afford it should buy it, those that can’t, shouldn’t,” Jeffery said.

“I understand their positions, of course. It doesn’t mean I agree with them. At the end of the day, whether we agree or not, the thing that really matters is that the UK becomes a leader in next-generation networks,” he argued.

Vodafone has already applied for licences for 5G tests and “the quicker we can get some of those trials up and running, experiment with 5G in the real world, the better”.

Fibre challenges
In a briefing in London this week, the executive said “there must be something structurally wrong with the way the UK’s communications industry is set up” when it comes to fibre availability, because “there are willing investors all over the world; the technology is there; yet investment isn’t happening here”.

He pointed to Vodafone’s other international operations as an indicator of its approach.

“If you look at what Vodafone is actually doing in almost all of the other countries we operate in in Europe, we are a committed investor and we are building fibre. And there are a number of ways we can do it: build it ourselves, working with partners, working with energy companies, and so on,” he said.

“You kind of have to ask yourself why that is not happening in the UK. And the answer is that we haven’t got the right regulatory, financial, operational, infrastructure and cost base to make that attractive.”

While stating Vodafone is “not asking for handouts or subsidies,” he did note there are some steps which could be taken to ease the journey: “What we would want is access to BT’s ducts, poles and fibre infrastructure. We’d want access to dark fibre at a competitive rate, as enablers for helping us build; or co-build, or whatever; construct the fibre infrastructure this country needs.”

Aside from wider issues surrounding the economy and customer confidence, Jeffery said there are “three things that we are focused on in terms of Brexit”.

“The free movement of capital, because most of Vodafone’s income is euro denominated; the free movement of people, because we are an international business and need our talent to move around the world; and maintaining data equivalency, because a lot of Vodafone is structured with data centres offshore, and we want to make sure we are still able to move data around in the way we do today.”

Changes in the way data is handled between Vodafone UK and Vodafone Group would “lead to unnecessary costs in our business, which inevitably needs to be paid for somehow,” he said: “At the moment, our expectation is that we will use the same data movement flows we use today.”

With charges for international roaming having recently been removed following regulatory intervention from EU authorities, Jeffery said Vodafone’s presence both in the UK and continental Europe means charges will not return: “It’s an internal thing for us more than an external one,” he said.