10 initiatives to drive a digital economy

A fully digital economy depends on universal, good quality connectivity, which will increasingly be wireless to support ubiquity and mobility. Without that, many digital enablers will be impossible to achieve. In a month in which GSMA and the UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport issue reports that put connectivity centre stage, we examine the challenges and disruptive alternatives to the status quo.

  1. Match service delivery to real world requirements – In an era in which network slicing will soon be able to facilitate logically separate network sharing of common infrastructure and spectrum, move away from the idea of uniform connectivity. Each sector, service and vertical has different requirements on data rate, reliability, latency and value.
  2. Unleash the power of the network – Split the market between infrastructure operators (netcos) and service providers, not MNOs and over-the-top providers. Allow more services to harness the network itself.
  3. Get creative with spectrum – Technical developments will enable MNOs to use unlicensed spectrum in tandem with licensed spectrum, and allow sharing of all spectrum and infrastructure by different service providers who operate independently – while offering service quality guarantees. Encourage competition between service providers – who can compete on a price versus service basis. Consider opening up new spectrum allocations to be ‘shared’ with organisations that ‘qualify’ – so not unlicensed – but open up the market to all players – who can be tenants on an infrastructure using their own spectrum or paying to share others spectrum.
  4. Get even more creative with spectrum – Some areas have poor mobile connectivity – and these are areas where spectrum is under-utilised. Allow local authorities/communities to take responsibility for improving their infrastructure. If operators choose not to benefit from neutral host provisioning, then authorities can do so and operators should be obliged to support national roaming. This would undoubtedly ruffle feathers, but it would also provide an incentive where the market has, to date, clearly failed
  5. Understand the real value of spectrum – There are misperceptions about the value of future spectrum awards (the marginal value of what’s to come will be significantly less than governments are used to). Real Wireless believes the spectrum release process should prioritise the economic and social benefits of connectivity over a one-off injection of revenue from auctions – this will encourage a longer term view of investment in a service rather than the short term view of the cost of the spectrum.
  6. Forge new value chains – The mobile business model is subject to change. Increasingly, mobile access will be requested by and funded via apps and services instead of a fixed or mobile subscription. The market structure to support this will challenge the traditional telecoms model and require a market structure to allow innovation without removing viable competitive players.
  7. Simplify deployment processes – Network deployment and maintenance is a slow, cumbersome and expensive process. This is usually blamed on planning and regulation and there is undoubtedly a great deal that needs to be done in this context. But operators and vendors must also look to their internal processes to identify how they can simplify and improve delivery. How many engineers and touch points are really required before a small cell or DAS goes live?
  8. Make the most of what you’ve got – Globally, many operators are struggling to transform their operational practices to utilise software driven system enhancements to LTE; increasing the utility of automation and AI. Real Wireless believes that it’s in everyone’s interests to invest in software and systems skills and in testbeds for all kinds of wireless, not just 5G. This is crucial to achieve a digital economy, and critical in laying the foundations for future networks where competitive advantage will derive from software oriented innovation paradigms.
  9. Open up access to sites and fibre – Today, mobile operators are monitored to ensure that there is effective competition. However, MNOs rely on a supply chain to deliver their services. In some areas, MNOs are subject to monopolistic or oligopolistic practice from landowners, backhaul providers or commercial property owners. Where landowners have a monopoly on large swathes of land or property, the community loses the economic benefit of connectivity. Competition in the supply chain to MNOs should be subject to review – and comparison to the costs borne by other utility providers.
  10. Incentivise best practise and innovation – Narrow performance gaps between different regions through regulation and incentives, measuring quality of service and quality of experience, not just coverage.

If you want more information or simply want to feedback on our suggestions, please get in contact.

Customising the digital economy

The one-size-fits-all network model is not dead yet. But it’s already starting to fall over. However it is defined, 5G is not going to operate in the same way in all cases: the various areas of bandwidth being reserved for it will see to that. High peak data rate and IoT (Internet of Things) capability, for example, each make very different demands on, and may use very different parts of, the radio spectrum.

For example, at parts of the spectrum above 30GHz early 5G users will take advantage of the high-capacity and high-speed mobile communications that such bandwidth allows. But these benefits won’t initially be matched by coverage. Thus a workable model here could be campus networks for businesses.

However, for IoT, what matters is range, battery life and cost, not throughput. Millions or billions of sensors sending out tiny pieces of information will offer data that can be used to enhance business practices and improve efficiency. This may imply different equipment, and will require different business models and network management systems from basic voice or mobile broadband.

For consumers it’s different again, though what they will want is hard to say just yet. Whatever 5G is used for, promoting the impression that it is one all-encompassing fast broadband network concept is not going to encourage innovation — or indeed be a reflection of reality.

Hence the much-discussed concept of 5G ‘leadership’ needs to be refined. 5G includes technologies that can and will mean different things to different sectors. Real leadership will involve not pushing 5G as broadband for all users everywhere but understanding and explaining what it can offer to specific sectors and users and how that can be tailored, delivered and marketed.

It will therefore be important to ensure that 5G consultation is held with all relevant sectors, and governments should facilitate prioritization of resources according to areas of economic impact. It will also be important to create the regulatory environment for key verticals to have access to optimized wireless networks, rather than assuming that one size fits all.

This way the improved service 5G will bring can benefit mass markets, while customised services enabled by 5G can be, as it were, made to measure for automotive, transportation, healthcare, energy, manufacturing, and more. Each sector and service requires different levels of speed, security, reliability and latency. And each service model will have different attributes and benefits customised to need and budget.

This is also a technology play as well as an economic and regulatory one. 5G NORMA — Novel Radio Multiservice adaptive network Architecture — in which Real Wireless is playing a leading role — aims to develop a conceptually novel, adaptive and future-proof 5G mobile network architecture that will be able to offer network customizability, in particular using available infrastructure more efficiently to meet growing traffic volumes and growing demand for novel communication services.

So, yes, the decline of one-size-fits-all is a good thing when addressing different industry sectors. Driving the digital economy should be more than a nice, catchy slogan. The economic and social benefits of 5G differ by sector and should be examined, discussed and delivered accordingly.

Local government, 5G and the question of funding

The Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has just published Next generation mobile technologies: A 5G strategy for the UK. The report argues that delivering 5G should be regarded as a key driver of the UK’s modern industrial strategy and the DCMS has put councils at the heart of its plans to deliver next generation mobile technologies.

This latest government strategy paper on 5G ­has been welcomed across the industry and it singles out local government as being central to its delivery – with clear implications for funding.

Councils will play a critical role in developing and delivering digital infrastructure because of the many roles it plays; from planning and asset management; to community engagement and economic growth. And councils who are actively looking to create connectivity plans and engage with the telecoms sector, will be rewarded.

To be at the forefront of the government’s plans and funding, councils need to:

  • Be ready and willing to negotiate with the telecoms sector, drawing on all of their experience (good and bad) from delivering faster broadband.
  • Draw up a detailed asset management plan for deployment of digital infrastructure, looking at possible sites for base stations (lamp posts, bus stops, public buildings)
  • Review existing planning policies – are they 5G ready and what are the planning barriers to deployment?
  • Don’t just think about 5G – are there any other creative ways to improve mobile connectivity for their residents? If 3G and 4G are still a problem, what other technologies are available to help?

The DCMS is looking at devolving powers, budgets and responsibilities to local areas to accelerate the implementation of 5G. There’s no doubt that proactive councils will be first in line to receive any funding and they will also have the best chance of being selected for pilot programmes.

Our advice is to get involved early. As key advisors to business, government, regulators (Ofcom) and the industry on this issue we welcome the government’s strategy and are keen to work with local councils to drive it forward.

If you want support to develop your connectivity plan or find out how best to negotiate with the telecoms sector to achieve what your community needs, please get in touch.

You can view the DCMS strategy paper “Next Generation Mobile Technologies: A 5G Strategy for the UK” here.