Despite Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) claiming 5G networks are now available in major UK cities, local authorities in charge of London’s network infrastructure are far from ready to support the rollout. According to Freedom of Information data obtained by Tech London Advocates, 31 out of 33 London boroughs have no specific strategy for enabling the rollout of 5G networks.
The independent, private-sector network of more than 8,000 tech leaders, experts and investors, has released the findings of a new study into the city’s preparedness for a cohesive rollout. The results show that London boroughs do not have strategies or staff to make 5G a reality. In fact, not one of the 33 boroughs have allocated any budget to implementing 5G technology in 2019.
In terms of personnel, 30 boroughs stated that they have no staff responsible for implementing 5G. Six boroughs have a councillor specifically responsible for 5G or broadband, despite having no broader strategy for enabling a rollout.
The future doesn’t look much brighter. Although deploying 5G technology is the responsibility of MNOs, not one of the London boroughs could confirm an anticipated date for full coverage in their respective territories, highlighting a lack of collaboration between stakeholders. Although it was the only borough able to provide any kind of estimate, the City of London predicts that it will be at least three years before it has full 5G coverage, a concerning thought when major cities around the world are adopting the technology at pace.
Despite very few boroughs having a defined 5G rollout strategy, 13 confirmed that they have concessions contracts in place to give communications infrastructure providers such as Arqiva access to public street furniture. Of the 11 boroughs that confirmed they are actively encouraging local rollout, four cited such concessions contracts as a method for doing so.
However, giving infrastructure providers access does not necessarily speed up deployment. Realistically, it is a way for local authorities to generate revenue, only adding another stakeholder for MNOs to negotiate with and escalating costs for them to use public street furniture to enable rollout. Although several boroughs responded that they are dependent on MNOs to facilitate 5G coverage in their territories, the lack of strategic alignment between boroughs indicated by varying contract types and sizes implies that a cohesive rollout is far from close.
Russ Shaw, Founder, Tech London Advocates said, “Network operators have been advertising 5G-enabled handsets for some time. However, as these results show, London is far from ready for widespread connectivity. The capital’s multi-borough system poses a unique set of challenges to network operators working towards a cohesive rollout compared with other cities. It requires co-ordination of different budgets, timelines and deals between a complex blend of stakeholders, including the challenge for MNOs of working across 35 planning authorities and 34 highways authorities.
“The Greater London Authority must align all the boroughs under the same policy, proactively encouraging investment from network operators and fostering collaboration between them, businesses and land owners. Otherwise, London risks being one of the worst cities in the UK for 5G coverage – an unacceptable scenario when the capital’s global future is already under question.”
5G is set to not only underpin the next generation of mobile technology, but UK companies’ ability to participate in the global business ecosystem, making it crucial for London to achieve quality coverage. In contrast, Verizon has made 5G services available in 15 US cities, with plans for access in 30 more by the end of the year.
China’s three major telecoms providers also recently launched commercial 5G service plans in 50 cities in a coordinated move. Despite China benefitting from a state-run system, these developments highlight how far London, and the UK more broadly, is falling behind other global tech leaders.
Andrew Campling, Director at 419 Consulting added, “Capitalising on the 5G opportunity is crucial for London to cement its place as a global technology hub. However, to avoid deterring network operators from investing, it must find a way to navigate the bureaucratic obstacles holding back the installation of 5G infrastructure.
“The user market might be large in the capital, but the excessive red tape and expense means I would probably choose to invest in other UK cities that are more welcoming to infrastructure providers. City Hall must make the proposition more attractive and incentivise operators if London is to keep up with the likes of the US and Chinese cities that are leading the way.”