Upwardly mobile

This report from UK think tank the Centre for Policy Studies looks at how the UK can gain the full benefits of the 5G revolution.

Delays to the rollout of 5G could cost the country tens of billions of pounds in lost economic output. In this report former Government advisers Alex Jackman and Nick King argue that Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and the UK’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic is at risk without a faster 5G rollout – to the tune of £41 billion. The delivery of 5G infrastructure is stalling. The set of rules meant to pave the way for the smooth rollout of the next generation telecommunication network, the Electronic Communications Code, is clearly not working as intended. Pressure on the rollout will only increase with the phasing out of Huawei from 5G infrastructure by 2027. The report highlights that if delays continue at their current rate, by 2027, over 11 million households and businesses could be missing out on vital digital connectivity. Improving digital infrastructure supports the Government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda, by helping local areas to retain and attract businesses and talent as well as by reducing regional inequalities. However, without reform to existing legislation, millions of households and businesses will suffer. Using analysis by the independent consultancy Policy Points, the report estimates that if 5G coverage reaches a quarter more of the population than the Government’s current target of 51%, it will produce GDP gains of £41.7 billion by 2027. It highlights that the difference between the UK being a leader and a laggard in 5G adoption could be as much as £173 billion in incremental GDP over the coming decade, as estimated by the Future Communications Challenge Group. The manufacturing, construction and agricultural sectors have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic, and these would benefit significantly from improved connectivity. However, onerous planning rules and loopholes in existing legislation are slowing down the infrastructure upgrades needed to make the most of this mobile revolution in these much-needed industries. To overcome these deployment barriers, Jackman and King are calling for urgent reforms to the Electronic Communications Code and national planning rules to speed up the rollout of 5G, unlock its potential and stimulate growth as the country recovers from the economic impact of Covid-19. It calls for sustained public sector leadership to deliver this, recognising that supporting digital infrastructure is one of the key things the Government can do that costs little, boosts growth and helps ‘level up’ the UK. The report warns that without such efforts, the UK could miss its 2025 deadline for gigabit connectivity and 2027 target for 5G coverage, putting the potential economic gains at risk. It argues that policymakers must learn from the 4G rollout and remove the barriers to deployment. While 5G promises to create economic benefits through increased capacity, reliability and speed – vastly improving business productivity and removing barriers imposed by poor digital connectivity – the system is plagued by red tape.

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