Andrew Conway, Director of Solutions, Innovation and Technology, BAI Communications UK
“While talent is spread evenly across our country, opportunity is not”. So said Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, when he launched the government’s long awaited White Paper last month. Alongside the commitments to rejuvenate local government, the White Paper showed a realization that digital connectivity – the new ways of learning, working and communicating that we saw accelerate throughout the pandemic – would be an essential part of creating those opportunities.
At BAI we believe that 5G is one of the most important aspects of digital connectivity because it provides the best of both worlds: the speeds of fixed connectivity with the flexibility of mobile, create unique opportunities for innovation. 5G and wireless connectivity will make it possible for all parts of the UK to innovate, attract companies and support great jobs. But it is even more important to have the building blocks of connectivity everywhere, and it is great to see the government recognize its own role in making sure all parts of the UK can benefit from 5G.
Levels of connectivity vary significantly across the UK when it comes to phone signal, broadband, fiber, and now 4G and 5G. Whilst 96% of UK premises have access to a superfast broadband connection with speeds of at least 30Mbit/s, a small but significant 123,000 premises still cannot get a decent broadband service of at least 10Mbit/s download speed. Mobile Operators first started rolling out 5G in 2019 and it is estimated to be available from at least one operator outside 42-57% of UK premises. While it’s natural for roll-out to start in areas with the greatest population density, this has the potential to create the regional disparities that the government’s White Paper is trying to address. There is a huge opportunity to help level up areas that have historically not had the same opportunities for jobs, growth and innovation. It was fantastic to see the White Paper celebrate the government’s role, both in encouraging trials that show business how 5G can create new solutions in healthcare, manufacturing, agri-tech and the creative industries; but also on the supply side, in making sure that the telecoms industry doesn’t just concentrate on delivering 5G where it’s easiest – in our biggest towns and cities.
Sunderland’s ‘Our Smart City’ is a great example of public and private sector coming together, with support from the Department of Levelling Up’s Getting Building Fund, to build advanced wireless networks that will support online and remote learning in Sunderland’s schools and allow people in assisted living to live independently for longer. All this can be extended to support initiatives such as self-driving vehicles for the automation of manufacturing logistics. BAI is proud to be a long-term partner to Sunderland City Council in building this technology infrastructure.
The Wireless Infrastructure White Paper, expected later this year, is where the government will set out in earnest its strategy to bolster the UK’s leading role in 5G. We want to see the opportunities of 5G spread evenly across the UK, supporting our mission to connect the unconnected so that smaller companies and industries can innovate and grow, and so that smaller towns and cities can attract the best people and companies. To truly level up, we need to build smart communities where nowhere and no one is left behind.