The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has published its final report into 5G technology, having been tasked by the government in March to consider what the country needs to do to become a world leader in its deployment. The NIC has said that the state must ‘play an active role to ensure that basic services are available’ in all areas, while adding that roads, railways and city centres should be made 5G ready ‘as quickly as possible’. In its report the Commission makes a number of recommendations with a view to achieving these goals, including a call for the government and regulator Ofcom to develop a meaningful set of metrics that represent the coverage people actually receive, with this data to be used to determine a mobile Universal Service Obligation (USO) so that consumers can access essential services where they are needed. According to the NIC, this should be delivered ‘as soon as is practical’ but no later than 2025.
Other notable recommendations made by the report include a call for local telecoms regulator Ofcom and the government to review the existing regulatory regime by the end of 2017 to ensure that it supports the sharing of telecoms infrastructure. Further, with the NIC saying that Ofcom and the government must ‘ensure they keep pace with the rapid evolution of the mobile communications market, and that the regulatory regime is fit for purpose’, ensuring that spectrum allocation and regulatory decisions support a growth model in a world where technology developments enable greater shared access and interoperability has also been identified as a priority, again by the end of 2017. As part of this, the Commission has recommended a review of how unlicensed, lightly licensed spectrum, spectrum sharing and similar approaches can be utilised for higher frequencies to maximise access to the radio spectrum.
Meanwhile, with a view to ensuring that the UK is 5G-ready the NIC has said that the country’s railway network must rapidly improve connectivity, saying this would best be delivered by a trackside network. With the report suggesting a plan to this end should be provided by the government by 2017, it envisages the infrastructure being in place on key routes by 2025. In addition, the report also takes aim at mobile coverage of Britain’s motorways, saying that ‘networks fit for the future’ in these areas should also be in place by 2025. Finally, with regards to coverage in the nation’s towns and cities, the NIC has called for local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) to work with network providers to develop approaches that enable the deployment of the tens of thousands of small cells in urban centres.