Lack of 5G understanding delaying rollout

04 February 2022 3 min. read
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As the UK’s roll-out of 5G continues to lag, decision-makers remain unclear what the benefits of the technology actually are. New research shows that fewer than one-third of the UK’s leading politicians understand the difference between 4G and 5G.

The UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 recession will depend heavily on innovation and the adoption of new technologies. Key to this is 5G – the next-generation mobile internet technology presently being implemented around the world.

Previous research has indicated 5G could be worth $1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030, with next generation networks stimulating growth and driving productivity at a time when countries are struggling with reduced activity due to the pandemic. Britain is no exception to this, with the technology’s rollout having been touted as worth £15 billion to the national economy if its full potential is seized upon.

Citizens’ understanding of mobile and broadband connections

The problem 5G currently faces, however, is that its rollout has been derailed by the ongoing pandemic – and most of the nation’s decision-makers are not entirely sure just what that ‘potential’ is. According to a new paper from Cluttons – a property advisory firm for the infrastructure and telecoms industry – hassurveyed MPs, councillors, consumers and businesses on the topic including their understanding, connections, the pace of roll out and a number of other things. The figures do not make for encouraging reading.

While infrastructures around the world were delayed by Covid-19, other G7 countries have managed to since push on with 5G rollouts. The UK is now lagging behind these competitors, with planning issues, funding, number of engineers etc meaning Britain is now very unlikely to hit its previous target of 85% coverage by 2025. Pressure to get things back on track is not what it should be, though – likely because few people seem to know what 5G could do for them.

Under a quarter of UK citizens understand what ‘gigabit-capable’ means, and few recognise its benefits, while just a third understand which type of home broadband connection is available in their local area. Problematically, this is roughly in line with knowledge among MPs and local councils, just under one-third of whom Cluttons found understood the benefits of upgrading the nation from 4G to 5G.

Top four issues that arise between local authorities and providers during rollout of communications infrastructure

As explained by Cluttons, “Gigabit refers to speeds of 1Gbps (one gigabit per second) or faster. A Gigabit is equivalent to 1,000Mbps and is the fastest connectivity possible. The UK’s average broadband speed according to Ofcom is 80Mbps. Gigabit is usually achieved by a type of technology called Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).”

As the UK looks to upgrade its digital economy in the years ahead, these changes are essential. But even when councils have gone to work on implementing 5G, they have been met with resistance due to a lack of understanding around this. According to councillors polled, 41% said a prominent barrier to 5G rollouts had been community objections.

John Gravett, Partner at Cluttons, commented, “Having the right level of connectivity across the UK is crucial for the Government’s levelling up agenda, as well as economic performance, jobs, skills and social equity… [But] less than a third of councillors think their residents would be supportive of further installation of infrastructure, despite there being a clear need for it and consumers in the main understanding the nationwide need. However, community objection shows that, as is often the case, people are supportive of development in general but may have outdated ideas about infrastructure being close to their local community – so this is something we must collectively address via both education, and planning reforms.”