uSwitch: 5G launch won’t solve the UK’s rural connectivity problems

Research from uSwitch suggests Britain’s rural connectivity problems will not be solved by 5G connectivity.

The research found a third of adult smartphone users still have trouble connecting to 4G at least once a week. As shown in the chart below by OpenSignal, every region of the UK still has 4G availability issues with the South West suffering most:

opensignal-4g-avaiable

Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at uSwitch, says:

“With so many of us completely reliant on our smartphones these days for our news, work, shopping and social media updates, there is little more frustrating than being unable to connect to phone services which we pay for.

Ofcom reports that 66% of the UK has 4G coverage from all major provider, but more than 23 million people are still facing difficulties connecting to their networks.

This can sometimes be blamed on network congestion at busy times, but often the capacity simply isn’t there for the numbers of people wanting to access a service they have paid for.”

Many consumers also have no current plans to upgrade to 5G due to the initial launch focus in major cities and urban areas.

uSwitch notes the focus by mobile providers to launch 5G in urban areas means that only 28 percent of the UK will have coverage by the end of 2019. Just one in seven (14%) consumers plan to upgrade to 5G in the next year, and only 19 percent believe it will improve their connectivity.

“The arrival of the next-generation infrastructure should help with some of the problems currently experienced by 4G users,” comments Doku. “But this will not be an overnight solution, in particular as fewer than one in seven of us is planning to upgrade to 5G in the next year.”

The research has been released mere days after the UK government pledged £5bn to achieve gigabit broadband in every home by 2025.

Initially, PM Boris Johnson pledged “full-fibre” broadband to every home by 2025 after calling the target of his predecessor government of 2033 “laughably unambitious”.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, he said: "We should commit now to delivering full-fibre to every home in the land – not in the mid-2030s – but in five years at the outside.”

When speaking about the pledge more recently, Johnson has changed his wording to “gigabit broadband” which can also include technologies such as 5G and Virgin Media’s DOCSIS 3.1 rather than just FTTP (Fibre-to-the-Premises).

Including these technologies means 2025 is a more realistic target for every home to have access to gigabit broadband, albeit still bold. Procurements and legal obstacles can take two years to sort and training of new engineers will need to be vastly ramped up to handle such a rapid deployment.

“The industry cannot use the launch of 5G as a band-aid to cover up the shortcomings of 4G,” says Doku. “Providers must work with communities to improve connectivity, especially in rural areas, to prevent millions of people being left stranded on technology two generations out of date.”

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