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Modest but reliable broadband connectivity should be favoured

A network capable of achieving 10 Mbps per rural user is possible

October 20th 2017

Tagged: Rurality

By Charles Gladwin

Consistency of broadband service connectivity nationwide should be the priority, even if it means a reduction of large headline internet speeds, a study has proposed.

In a modelling process of how broadband infrastructure could develop in the UK, the researchers have warned that under the current circumstances, the introduction of 5G ultrafast broadband of 50Mbps would see 90 per cent of the UK population covered by 5G by 2027. However, “coverage is unlikely to reach the final 10% due to exponentially increasing costs,” and “3.6 per cent of the population would be left out of the 5G footprint by 2030.”

Instead, the report proposes that “varying annual capital intensity or deploying a shared small cell network can greatly influence the time taken to reach the 90% threshold, with these changes mostly benefiting rural areas,” says the report.

“Importantly, simply by integrating new and existing spectrum, a network capable of achieving 10Mbps per rural user is possible, which is comparable to the UK’s current fixed broadband Universal Service Obligation.”

The researchers at Cambridge Judge Business School warn that “policymakers need to be cautious regarding large headline speeds in rural areas … If these are desired politically, then financial support may be required. However, it may be more appropriate to focus on achieving near-ubiquitous coverage of a moderate level using spectrum resources to support the vertical industries that 5G will purportedly enable.”

Dr Edward Oughton, Research Associate in Technology Modelling at the Centre for Risk Studies at Cambridge Judge Business School, commented: “We don’t need higher and higher headline speeds, but what we do need is reliable connectivity – to ensure we can reap the productivity benefits of new digital applications, platforms and services.

“We haven’t been able to achieve this with 4G LTE in the UK as patchy reception often leads to disruption. Operators can struggle to deploy new base stations and the industry has been experiencing declining revenues, meaning there isn’t much capability for large scale infrastructure investment.”

The report notes that “currently in the UK, indoor coverage of 4G technology reaches 72 per cent of premises and outdoor coverage reaches 86 per cent of premises, with 4 per cent not covered by any operator.”

Dr Oughton co-authored the report with Dr Zoraida Frias of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. ‘The cost, coverage and rollout implications of 5G infrastructure in Britain’ was published in the journal Telecommunications Policy.


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