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Government setting up local planning group to support 5G roll-out

Digital minister Margot James is building a new initiative to support collaboration on 5G mobile network roll-out at a local level, bringing together councils, landowners and industry to work on planning challenges and policy

The government is moving ahead with the establishment of a planning group to explore issues surrounding the roll-out of ultrafast 5G mobile networks and full-fibre broadband, bringing together local councils, telecoms regulator Ofcom, landowners and industry stakeholders to collaborate on bringing access to connectivity to all.

Speaking at the launch of an O2-sponsored report on 5G roll-out in the UK, James – who took up her post in January in a cabinet reshuffle – said the government needed to “establish what is needed to create the optimal conditions for long-term, sustainable investment” in both the next generation of mobile networks and full-fibre broadband.

James said she was aware of the importance of planning when it came to 5G roll-out, and said the government needed to do more to support this.

“We know greater collaboration is crucial to deliver our ambition of becoming a world leader in 5G,” said James. “We’re setting up a local connectivity group to help local areas develop local plans for connectivity. This should help reduce inconsistencies in deploying digital infrastructure around the country.”

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) had previously trailed the initiative in a 5G Strategy Update published in December 2017.

Once it is up and running, the group will help provide an accurate picture of local area requirements for digital infrastructure, encourage local authorities to develop their own plans, and help limit inconsistencies in how the regulations covering network deployment are interpreted at the council level, in aspects of network planning such as wayleaves and permissions to run infrastructure over private land, and bringing ultrafast connectivity into new-build developments during the construction process – not as an afterthought.

It will also look more closely at ways to open up government properties for mobile infrastructure deployment, recognising that the public sector is often perceived as a "landlord of last resort".

It is understood that the government has already asked techUK to provide the secretariat for the group on its behalf.

O2’s report, The value of 5G for cities and communities, painted a bright picture of how the upcoming mobile network standard will drive cost efficiencies at the central and local government level – for businesses as well as consumers.

It predicted the average household stood to save £450 per annum on its energy, food and council tax bills by levering connected internet of things (IoT) smart home technologies using 5G. Local councils could regain up to £2.8bn – also by exploiting the IoT – while the NHS could free up over a million GP hours by facilitating remote monitoring and tele-health.

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The total net benefit to the UK in terms of productivity savings could ultimately be worth up to £6bn, said the operator.

Backing the government’s plans for local-level collaboration on 5G, O2 CEO Mark Evans said: “We know what the technological advantages of 5G are, but of course none of this is possible unless we work brilliantly together to embed this connectivity into society.”

“While 5G promises a range of unprecedented benefits, we should be clear these won’t be achieved without collective investment and collaboration,” said O2 chief operating officer Derek McManus.

“That means complete alignment from operators, public service providers, local authorities, landlords and technology companies to explore new opportunities for better connectivity and denser coverage.”

Local initiatives

McManus said the operator was already working on local initiatives around the UK, including in Worcestershire where it is supporting one of the winners of the government’s 5G Testbeds and Trials competition, the Worcestershire 5G Consortium.

This project is bringing together the Worcestershire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) and local businesses to explore industrial productivity applications of 5G, such as analytics, predictive maintenance and robotics.

O2 is also conducting trials of a “5G experience” at the eponymous south London music venue, demonstrating consumer use cases such as enhanced content-streaming capabilities.

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