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London’s 5G Challenge – A need for partnership
11 September 2018
In new report with London First, Roadmap to 5G: Achieving world class digital connectivity in London, we set the key commitments and responsibilities of each party.
The mobile phone is today an essential tool. Four out of every five of us own a smartphone and more than seven in ten use their mobile to access the internet. And data use is skyrocketing. A recent study found the average customer uses 1.9GB of data each month but by 2025 this is expected to rise to a staggering 90GB.
It’s not just Londoners downloading movies and streaming music; soon autonomous vehicles, health monitoring devices, trains and even lampposts will be communicating with each other.
And with 5G coming soon this demand will require substantial network upgrades and new infrastructure – and fast. Yet London is a complex place to build with a high density of tall buildings, narrow streets and a propensity for mobile signal unfriendly glass and steel. It is also expensive. In fact, London is one of THE most expensive places to build new infrastructure.
Up to 85% of the costs of expanding the digital network in the capital are so-called ‘civil’ costs, such as planning regulations and other red tape. The 32 boroughs and the City of London grant the required planning permissions, but each can have a different interpretation to applying rules and permits. This means the cost of investing in digital in London can vary widely –even across streets, as one borough neighbours another.
Operators might reasonably direct investment to areas that are more digital friendly. For example, Norfolk has pledged to make its assets available under new Electronic Communications Code prices while the Connecting Cambridgeshire initiative was set up to discover and break down barriers to mobile deployment.
We can’t allow London to miss out on investment in its digital future and fall behind its competitors.
But building mobile networks is not the sole responsibility of the mobile network operators. Yes, they build the physical networks but to do so it requires a high level of partnership between many stakeholders. This is all the more important as coverage expectations increase and 5G is expected to be more complex to build than the last.
A more joined-up ambitious approach to delivering London’s world class productivity is needed. There are several key issues to be addressed:
Political leadership to drive better access to public-sector property for digital infrastructure and level the playing field with other key public utilities;
Standardisation of rules to give operators, business, landlords and developers the documentation they need to deliver digital infrastructure in a fast and effective way;
Public intervention to make sure we plug London’s not-stops in area that are commercially unviable; and
Leveraging public assets to make them viable places to invest in digital infrastructure.
London’s government, operators and boroughs each have their part to play to improve digital connectivity.
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