UK's smallest mobile operator argues that using 5G to provide fixed wireless access (FWA) is the most pragmatic approach.
New research from CCS Insight and Three UK shows that those in rural areas could be to gigabit broadband faster and for half the cost of fixed line technology – if the government backs fixed wireless access (FWA) via 5G.
Fixated on fixed
The report, 5G Fixed Wireless Can Help the UK Bridge its Digital Divide and Achieve Gigabit Aspirations, examines the Government’s plans to get gigabit connectivity to 85% of UK premises by 2025 and, in particular, relying on fixed line technology to achieve it.
Currently, only 20% of rural areas are able to access ultrafast Wi-Fi, according to the Ofcom Connected Nations 2020 report and BT said in 2019 that it costs about £4,000 per location to roll out fibre to harder to reach areas.
Three UK and CCS Insight calculated that FWA could be installed for half the cost of full fibre and provide comparable connectivity, but policy reform is needed to allow this.
This includes changes to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC), which is designed to give mobile operators more rights to access to sites for antenna, making roll-outs more affordable, but has failed in its goal. Operators still often are embroiled in long and costly legal battles with site owners over access and cost.
A 60% reduction in site rentals over 10 years through ECC reform would fund the expansion of the Three 5G network by 20%, enabling us to reach more people with 5G.
The Permitted Development Rights regime is also in need of reform: it limits operators' ability to build and upgrade the necessary infrastructure for 5G and better 4G connectivity.
While Three welcome’s Government’s decision to consult on both, it is essential that these reforms are brought forward as quickly as possible to ensure everyone can access better connectivity.
Wider tech pool
David Hennessy, Chief Technology Officer, Three UK and Ireland said: “Gigabit speed internet is critical for the UK’s long-term prosperity.…It’s time for a greater consideration of a wider pool of technology, particularly FWA, to help those in rural areas have access to faster internet and ultimately help reduce the digital divide.”
Kester Mann, analyst, CCS Insight, said, "The Government’s ambition to reach at least 85% of UK premises with gigabit-capable broadband by 2025 is an ambitious target. It will necessitate urgent policy reform to remove barriers to network deployment, an acceleration in build-out ambition from UK providers and an open approach to new connectivity solutions through a mix of technologies. 5G fixed wireless access can form a significant part of this.”