The Spring Budget was revealed earlier this month by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and while there was a promising pledge of £270 million towards funding of technological developments, we at 24 Seven were somewhat surprised by one of Philip Hammond’s topics of discussion.
Among his promises to invest millions in placing the UK at the forefront of technology through developments in robotics, biotech and broadband, Hammond also revealed that an initial figure of £16 million would be given for the development of 5G networks. The money pledged by the Government will be put towards extensive research and development ahead of the roll out which is expected to begin around 2020.
The government also published a ‘5G strategy’ document this month, setting out a view to how the fostering and development of the next mobile spectrum will be handled. The government have played up the benefits of rolling out 5G, promising better speed and capacity, positioning the UK as global leaders following Brexit.
At 24 Seven, we were less excited to hear about the investment in a technology which does not yet exist, particularly when existing 4G, has not been adequately rolled out. With the UK population only having consistent 4G coverage 53% of the time, we’ve gone to great lengths to encourage the government to make improvements to the 4G network, even writing an open letter to MPs late in 2016.
It appears to be the stance of the Government that the roll out of 5G will benefit all, but the reality is that it will only benefit the few. It would be wiser for the UK government offers to be put towards ensuring all businesses, especially rural SMEs have the coverage they deserve.
Whilst we understand the importance of technological progression, and therefore the need to move forward with 5G, it’s our belief that we must first help those who struggle to connect to 4G networks, so that they are not left even further behind when 5G is introduced. Some people are still relying on 3G networks, and so balance must be found between ensuring access to 4G across the UK, while continuing to develop the 5G spectrum. We at 24 Seven are not alone in our scepticism.
Principal researcher of 5G technologies for Vodafone, David Lister commented that before getting carried away with the progression of 5G, “This can only be supported if it can be commercially justified.” Similarly, mobile industry body GSMA has argued that there are only three practical 5G applications which could not be achieved using LTE, LTE-A, or other 4G improvements, rendering the upgrade to 5G unnecessary.
Another thing to consider in the roll out of 5G is that it is expected to occupy the 6GHz frequency band. Signals at this height do not travel as far as those of 4G signals, meaning that in order for widespread, reliable 5G connectivity to be achieved across the UK, we’d also have to invest in multiple input and output antennas (MIMOs) to boost signals, adding to the expense of the 5G rollout. 5G is intended to mend the ‘not-spots’ that we have encountered with 4G in the UK, which seems unrealistic, or expensive, if we’re replacing it with a technology with limited reach. What is more, if the calamitous roll out of 4G in the UK is anything to go by, we may well encounter problems when it’s the turn of 5G.
Yes, the UK needs better connectivity, but surely the best way to achieve that is by improving on the 4G that we already have in place, rather than waiting to replace it with a technology that is unproven. The lack of connectivity in the UK is a very real problem now, and something must be done, well before 2020.