More recently, the slower rate of adoption of the latest generation of mobile technology has given rise to questions from the British public such as “why did 5G take so long to take off in the UK?” and “why is 5G adoption in the UK so poor compared to other countries?”.
BY MIKAEL SANDBERG, CHAIRMAN, VX FIBER
WHILE THERE is no doubting the potential of megafast on-the-go internet, there does appear to be an underlying frustration around how quickly we’ll be able to utilise it. In truth, the reality of 5G hasn’t yet met upbto its enormous hype.
It should be noted that the physical process of upgrading to 5G is a lot more demanding in comparison to its predecessor, 4G. Furthermore, the UK government-mandated swap out of Huawei kit due to security concerns will also have had an impact on rollout. Digital Secretary at the time, Oliver Dowden claimed the supply ban would delay the UK’s 5G rollout by a year. However, there is another barrier preventing 5G from reaching its potential – full fibre. In order to work, 5G requires a robust full fibre network.
The high frequency spectrum the carriers are planning to use travels incredibly short distances and gets interfered with easily. It might travel a few hundred metres, but only through clear air; water, foliage, buildings, and even people all get in the way of this spectrum. A user would need to be very near a base station to get the kind of bandwidth the carriers are talking about, and that base station will, in turn, have to be connected to full fibre in order to carry the sheer amounts of data that people and sensors will be generating and using. This is why wireless and fibre are not the same. Even if a wireless connection can carry data over a few metres, fibre optic cables can carry virtually unlimited data for tens of kilometres – perfectly unthreatened by interference – without needing a boost. They’re complementary technologies, not substitutes for one another.
In an article for Digitalisation World in 2020, we explained 5G’s reliance on full fibre in some depth. Yet it seems, over a year later, the same misconception remains. To this date, multiple articles tout 5G as the end of fixed line broadband. Ultimately though, 5G alone can only ever be a stop-gap, as the majority of valuable 5G applications will only become possible once full fibre becomes available.
For this reason, full fibre technology is the most future-proof investment, as its reliability, longevity, and performance is far superior to other gigabit-capable technologies enabling it to support the UK’s long-term digital ambitions. A strategy that encourages public and private investment into any other technology will only need to be uprooted and replaced, likely by the end of this decade.
If the intention of the Government is to expand the availability of future proof connectivity across the UK, then FTTP is the winning option. In fact, because 5G will require fibre infrastructure to connect masts to the rest of the network, 5G should be used to drive the rollout of fibre, which can and should be shared with mobile networks and consumers alike.
However, the challenges of rolling out a truly nationwide full fibre network cannot be underestimated. Meeting the Government’s 2025 target – a minimum of 85% – never mind ubiquitous coverage, will require the rapid removal of barriers such as the planning framework, certainty on policy, vendor diversification, and digital championing at a local level. Open Access provides a solution. Open access typically means multiple Service Providers sharing the same physical network. In this model, municipalities and other fibre owners are able to build the physical infrastructure using existing assets such as cable or ducting laid down for security cameras, traffic management, and district heating – and importantly retain ownership of this lucrative fibre asset. Contributing to that, and enabling private investors to leverage existing infrastructure, will lower costs and speed up deployment.
ISPs then operate in a competitive market using thesame physical network, giving incentives to innovate instead of simply locking out competitors with a de facto monopoly. Open access networks spur competition between Service Providers – lowering both costs for the subscribers and the barriers to new
Service Providers entering the market – increasing choice and service.
By working hand-in-hand, fibre operators and local governments will be able to bring better connectivity to all and drive a smarter future. High-quality infrastructure has been cited as crucial to economic growth and has been selected by the Government as one of the three pillars of investment on which we’ll base recovery from Covid-19 in its plan to ‘Build Back Better’. Ensuring that everyone has fast, reliable, and affordable broadband access by facilitating full fibre rollout will futureproof local businesses to evolve with the digital economy and support critical public services and community assets.
5G has been so hyped by the industry because it is expected to have a huge impact on our everyday lives. From personal use to advanced new apps ranging from automated vehicles, first responder services to the raft of benefits that can be derived from smart cities. In fact, some of the more exciting applications will be ones we haven’t even foreseen yet. But 5G can’t do it alone, it’s not quite the silver bullet, we are still going to need full fibre to fire that gun.