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Digital minister Matt Hancock has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to full-fibre broadband and 5G mobile networking as a fundamental layer of a coherent national digital strategy for a post-Brexit UK.
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In his first public remarks on the UK’s digital infrastructure policy since the 8 June general election, Hancock, who retained his post at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) after prime minister Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle, said broadband connectivity was one of the most frequently raised issues on the doorstep during campaigning.
“We support the goal of high levels of UK connectivity delivered by commercial investment within a framework delivered by government,” he said. “We all know we need to do more and I am delighted to be back to do just that.”
Speaking at the Connected Britain event in London, Hancock said that previously announced measures, such as a £400m fund for full-fibre broadband, the national 5G strategy and the planned broadband universal service obligation (USO), were all still high on the agenda.
Hancock said the new government planned to do more to remove regulatory barriers that have made investment in fit-for-purpose networks uneconomic for industry, and work more closely with regulator Ofcom on matters relating to radio spectrum for 5G and infrastructure.
On Brexit, he added: “We continue to represent the UK’s interests in Europe for as long as we remain a member of the EU. The EU is currently reviewing its telecoms regulatory framework and it is crucial the future framework supports investment.
“We are working with allies across Europe and are fully participating in negotiations to get the best outcome for UK companies.”
But Simon Beresford-Wylie, CEO of Arqiva, said the government was still not setting the right aspirations around connectivity, particularly with regard to 5G, which he characterised as both a substitute for fixed broadband connections and a truly mobile product.
Arqiva plans to begin field trials of fixed wireless access technology for 5G in July 2017, and Beresford-Wylie said wider deployments could not come fast enough.
“We want to commercially deploy fixed wireless access soon because it is crucial to our competitiveness,” he said. “This country needs a high-quality broadband service. We should be in the first wave of 10 to 15 countries to get this [5G] out. If we don’t, the competitive position of this country will drift further away and the productivity crisis we have here will be exacerbated.”