Written by Dr Paul Carter, CEO, Global Wireless
The promise – and for many, the reality – of 5G has been a long time in the making. The UK Government first published its 5G strategy back in 2017, but operators had been investing in the technology for years prior to that. It has always been the case that with widespread 5G will come advancements in latency, capacity, efficiency, coverage and reliability, as well as an explosion in innovation as commercial and public enterprises will be able to deliver products and services that are barely conceivable in today’s world. But if one thing has become clear over the course of the 5G deployment process, it is that roadblocks and opposition will continue to exist until the benefits of widespread coverage are made tangible to the average consumer. The reasons are two-fold.
Firstly, the 5G deployment process was always destined to be lengthy and complex. Given the understandable anticipation and expectation around 5G, coupled with a certain degree of over-promotion and hype, the feeling for many consumers is that 5G is not being rolled out quickly enough. Yet, the reality is that it’s unlikely that full standalone 5G networks could have been deployed much faster than the current pace across the UK. Rolling out a new transitional technology of this scale requires significant capital investment and resources from operators, not to mention the involvement of local and national regulators and other government agencies.
Further, 5G networks are currently being deployed alongside existing 4G networks. They are not standalone networks – not yet at least – as they currently work in conjunction with existing networks, using the same facilities and operating on frequency bands that are not too dissimilar from one another. Whilst we are starting to see commercial pilots of standalone 5G sites in several UK cities, integrated 4G/5G networks do yield improvements in network reliability and speeds. Overall, the complexity of this deployment process cannot be understated.
5G will continue to face opposition, or at the very least remain a misunderstand entity for consumers and businesses alike, because not enough has been done to make a positive yet realistic case in its favour – this has created opposition and resentment at the local level. As proposed changes to the Electronic Communications Code (including relaxed planning rules for improved 5G infrastructure such as taller masts in greater numbers) make their way through a second government consultation, a recent spate of negative news stories focusing on the height of new and proposed 5G masts suggests that public support for the changes is fragile and unpredictable at best. Until operators and the government make a stronger connection with the public to help quell the misinformation and misunderstandings that have circulated, 5G will only appear to many in the form of ever taller masts or ever more absurd news headlines. And thus, the benefits of the rollout would once again be buried in the unfolding conversation.
Of course, we know that these benefits are plentiful. The challenge for those involved in the rollout is to get better at talking about the potential of 5G in a much more relatable way for the businesses and consumers who stand to benefit. In doing so, they will be more likely to accept more ambitious and larger-scale changes to outdated regulations that pave the way for reasonable updates to our electronic communications infrastructure – a necessary step to drive technological gains and superior connectivity. With the amount of both time and money invested in 5G technology, from both government bodies and operators, in the many millions if not billions, the very least those involved could do is to manage expectations while making a compelling case for it. Our masts may get taller, and regulations may change, but the superfast, super-reliable connectivity offered by 5G will very quickly become the new normal – this is something we should all stand to benefit from.