5G mobile infrastructure could be worth £2.8bn a year to Britain – so long as government steps up

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, March 2018. Image: Getty.
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It’s rather unsurprising given this week’s tumultuous events that Brexit continues to dominate time, energy and focus in Westminster.

But the fact is the UK faces some great domestic challenges beyond this, which will arguably have just as much impact on our economic prosperity in the next 10 to 20 years. Not least of these is the installation of 5G mobile infrastructure, which is not guaranteed for the UK and will not happen without concerted action and focus.

Government quite rightly wants the UK to be a leader in 5G. After all, the next generation of mobile connectivity has the power to be as transformative as electricity for our daily lives and for our economy. O2’s recent analysis, ‘The value of 5G for cities and communities’, shows it could save local authorities all over the UK up to £2.8bn a year through efficiencies such as smart street-lighting and more efficient rubbish collections, and cut household bills by up to £450 a year – as well as assisting public services like the NHS move to digital and therefore free up more time to help patients.

This is tremendously exciting. But these benefits for cities aren’t guaranteed and we risk drift without concerted, collaborative action.

At O2 we’re already taking steps to secure that 5G future for the UK. We are launching a 5G test bed at the O2 in North Greenwich later this year and are planning to install similar test beds across Wales, Scotland and in Northern Ireland. We’re also working to roll out the small cell technology that will lay the foundations for our customers to enjoy 5G in places up and down the UK. We’ve already rolled out 1,400 small cells in London in partnership with Cisco, with plans to deploy 300 more in collaboration with Arqiva this year.

But we are not there yet. Building the next generation of transformative mobile infrastructure requires major investment and infrastructure installation in UK cities – and mobile operators cannot do it alone. This investment must be supported and enabled by bold and progressive decision-making in national and local government.

That is why O2 has worked with independent think tank Centre for Cities to draw up a blueprint on how together we can ensure 5G and other upcoming digital developments deliver for consumers and businesses in cities across the country, as well as for UK Plc. It also shows how cities can make better use of existing digital connections, drawing on examples of what is currently working best in places across the UK.


Amongst other things, the report, ‘Delivering Change’, calls for reforms to be made to the Electronic Communications Code to ensure it does not just work on paper. The report also recommends that the National Planning Policy Framework should include a requirement for the provision of high quality digital infrastructure – mobile and fixed – to be pre-installed in all new developments, like other utilities are.

But government should to be even more radical in its approach to tackling the barriers preventing 5G roll-out. Though it is rising, fibre coverage in the UK – which is critical to the deployment of 5G – still falls behind many of the developed nations, particularly for residential. We need that market to be developed and made more competitive to encourage the fast deployment of fast fibre in the UK.

Government should also ensure operators have easier and better access to existing infrastructure, such as BT ducts and poles and full fibre networks for mobile backhaul.

More also needs to be done to expand access to public sites at more affordable prices, so operators can install new mobile infrastructure. I would like to see, for example, the government setting up a challenge fund so people and organisations can apply to enjoy reductions in rent, in return for opening up their homes and buildings in order to improve digital connectivity in their local area. After all, landlords literally ‘hold the key’ to unlocking access to ultrafast connectivity for the UK.

Our vision is that all parties – government, regulators, industry, local authorities, landlords and developers – work together to secure an environment in which it takes just weeks and is commercially sensible to install a 5G small cell no bigger than a laptop into our built environment. Only then can we ensure that the investment, adoption and prioritisation of 5G matches the opportunity it presents – with no exception and for the benefit of all.

Britain was a pioneer of mobile technology. But without the right focus on 5G we risk squandering the benefits of 5G and losing the digital leadership we have worked so hard to establish.

Derek McManus is chief operating officer of O2.

You can learn more about this topic in the ‘Delivering Change’ report, published in association with the Centre for Cities.

 
 
 
 

Covid-19 is highlighting cities' unequal access to green space

In the UK, Londoners are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. (Leon Neal/Getty Images)

As coronavirus lockdowns ease, people are flooding back to parks – but not everyone has easy access to green space in their city.

Statistics from Google show that park attendance in countries across the globe has shot up as people have been allowed to move around their cities again.

This is especially true in urban areas, where densely populated neighbourhoods limit the size of private green space – meaning residents have to go to the park to get in touch with nature. Readers from England can use our interactive tool below to find out how much green space people have access to in their area, and how it compares to the rest of the country.

 

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s announcement Monday that people are allowed to mingle in parks and gardens with groups of up to six people was partially following what people were doing already.

Data from mobile phones show people have been returning to parks across the UK, and also across Europe, as weather improves and lockdown eases.

People have been returning to parks across the world

Stay-at-home requirements were eased in Italy on 4 May, which led to a flood of people returning to parks.

France eased restrictions on 1 May, and the UK eased up slightly on 13 May, allowing people to sit down in public places so long as they remain socially distanced.

Other countries have seen park attendance rise without major easing of lockdown – including Canada, Spain, and the US (although states there have individual rules and some have eased restrictions).

In some countries, people never really stopped going to parks.

Authorities in the Netherlands and Germany were not as strict as other countries about their citizens visiting local parks during lockdown, while Sweden has famously been avoiding placing many restrictions on people’s daily lives.


There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that access to green space has major benefits for public health.

A recent study by researchers at the University of Exeter found that spending time in the garden is linked to similar benefits for health and wellbeing as living in wealthy areas.

People with access to a private garden also had higher psychological wellbeing, and those with an outdoor space such as a yard were more likely to meet physical activity guidelines than those without access to outdoor space. 

Separate UK research has found that living with a regular view of a green space provides health benefits worth £300 per person per year.

Access is not shared equally, however, which has important implications for equality under lockdown, and the spread of disease.

Statistics from the UK show that one in eight households has no garden, making access to parks more important.

There is a geographic inequality here. Londoners, who have the least access to private gardens, are most likely to rely on their local park for green space, and have the best access to parks. 

However the high population in the capital means that on the whole, green space per person is lower – an issue for people living in densely populated cities everywhere.

There is also an occupational inequality.

Those on low pay – including in what are statistically classed as “semi-skilled” and “unskilled” manual occupations, casual workers and those who are unemployed – are almost three times as likely as those in managerial, administrative, professional occupations to be without a garden, meaning they rely more heavily on their local park.

Britain’s parks and fields are also at significant risk of development, according to new research by the Fields in Trust charity, which shows the number of people living further than a 10-minute walk from a public park rising by 5% over the next five years. That loss of green spaces is likely to impact disadvantaged communities the most, the researchers say.

This is borne out by looking at the parts of the country that have private gardens.

The least deprived areas have the largest gardens

Though the relationship is not crystal clear, it shows at the top end: Those living in the least deprived areas have the largest private green space.

Although the risk of catching coronavirus is lower outdoors, spending time in parks among other people is undoubtedly more risky when it comes to transmitting or catching the virus than spending time in your own outdoor space. 

Access to green space is therefore another example – along with the ability to work from home and death rates – of how the burden of the pandemic has not been equally shouldered by all.

Michael Goodier is a data reporter at New Statesman Media Group, and Josh Rayman is a graphics and data visualisation developer at New Statesman Media Group.