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Top 10 telecoms stories of 2023

Over the past 12 months, the telecoms market has been defined by the three Fs – fibre, 5G and flying objects. Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 telecoms stories from 2023

Like the year before, the telecoms market in 2023 has been defined by the three Fs. That is to say fibre, 5G and flying objects. And even though like 12 months ago, a fair yearly assessment could be that telecoms network deployment over the past 12 months has never been so widespread and, indeed, never so important, 2023 has seen rapid deployment and technological evolutions in these three fundamental categories.

These days, the fixed comms market does not seem as exciting as the wireless sectors, but it would not be wise to underestimate what has been happening in this area, in particular the rate at which wired gigabit has been rolled out and the technological advances it now displays.

Indeed, research has shown global fixed broadband subscribers have been growing steadily over the past few years, continuously evolving to meet the growing demand for faster and more reliable connectivity, with a clear trend towards advanced, high-speed broadband offerings such as fibre-to-the-home/business (FTTH/B) – while technologies such as copper-based ADSL and VDSL broadband are experiencing a decline. This trend has been especially true in Europe and the UK, where the steady increase in business undertaken by altnets has given national fixed broadband a shot.

But gigabit fibre deployment is not a one size fits all. One key trend has been for the UK’s leading players Openreach, Virgin Media O2 and CityFibre to begin rolling our networks based on XGS-PON technology that will initially provide customers with symmetrical upload and download speeds of up to 10Gbps, and capable of scaling up to 25Gbps for future technologies and applications.

Private mobile networks have emerged in 2023 as a viable alternative to traditional enterprise networks, driven by the rapid rollout of 5G across major economies. This year, 5G enterprise uses cases have increased considerably as the fundamental technologies become more affordable and more diffuse. 5G was seen addressing already the needs of use cases with high and complex requirements such as autonomous vehicles. Another marked trend across the year has been the uptick in 5G-based internet of things (IoT) deployments within enterprises.

And IoT is also increasingly part of the satellite communications networks which have rocketed, every pun intended, over the course of 2023. Ironically, the year began with the much-publicised failure of the Virgin Orbit Start Me Up project in the UK, but since then, the satellite broadband arena has gained a much higher orbit, with traditional telcos such as Orange France and BT in the UK reaching for the skies to bring connectivity everywhere.

With this in mind, here’s a look back over Computer Weekly’s top 10 telecoms stories of 2023.

1. Fibre glides past two-thirds of global broadband subscriptions in Q1 2023

Updated analysis of trends in global and regional broadband subscriptions and technology adoption in first three months of the year revealed robust growth in high-speed broadband offerings such as FTTH/B, according to analysis of the fixed broadband market from PointTopic.

The study found that overall, as of Q1 2023, global fixed broadband connections reached 1.377 billion, reflecting a growth rate of 1.59% compared with the last quarter of 2022. At 21.6 million, the quarterly net adds were close to the figure recorded a year earlier, though the growth rate (1.59%) was slower, compared with 1.77% in Q1 2022, with global inflation and economic instability having an impact.

2. Full-fibre passes tipping point for UK broadband services

An Ofcom summer survey of broadband and mobile markets revealed that full-fibre broadband service availability had reached majority status.

Based on findings from April and May 2023, the UK communications regulator’s Connected Nations summer update found the availability of gigabit-capable fixed broadband was continuing to improve at a rapid pace. The study calculated that nearly 22.4 million UK homes (75%) are now able to access these faster services, up from 21.9 million (73%) and an increase of 1.6 percentage points since the spring 2023 study.

3. BT sees accelerated fibre adoption in first half of fiscal year

Half-yearly results call for UK incumbent telco BT showed a strengthening of its competitive position, with the launch of mobile offer and full-fibre networks reaching more than a third of the UK’s homes and businesses, with a growing connection rate.

Despite revenues remaining flat compared with the same period a year ago, BT revealed financial results for the first half of its current fiscal year, showing profits up considerably and acceleration in its build-out of FTTP across the UK.

4. Nexfibre unveils UK roll-out plan

Following a series of recent announcements regarding the newly created company’s services going live in towns across the UK, full-fibre network operator Nexfibre published the first quarterly update of its nationwide roll-out plan.

Nexfibre is the result of a £4.5bn investment from Virgin Media O2 shareholders, Liberty Global and Telefónica, alongside investment firm InfraVia Capital Partners. It was launched to create the UK’s first national-scale challenger to BT Openreach, boosting choice and competition in the market.

The operator aims to roll out fibre initially to five million homes not currently served by Virgin Media O2’s network by 2026, with the opportunity to expand to an additional two million homes.

5. UK altnets see record-breaking data consumption

UK broadband deployment is continuing to adhere to the principle of “if you build it, they will come” as providers are now witnessing unprecedented usage and availability of gigabit infrastructures proliferates across the country. However, there are still fears that the digital divide is persisting, with rural network users stuck in the connectivity slow lane.

Yet the UK’s leading alternative broadband suppliers have increasing opportunities and challenges in addressing the connectivity needs of businesses, especially those located outside of metropolitan areas.

6. 5G to be the last ‘G’ for Orange as comms hits singularity

Since the onset of the transformational 3G mobile standard in 2001, the world of communications became used to the arrival of a new generation in mobile networking every decade – yet just as 5G makes an evolutionary step in the form of 5G-Advanced, this linear progression may have reached an end as the technology makes an inexorable move beyond the generational model, according to Bruno Zerbib, executive vice-president and chief technology and information officer of Orange Group.

The telco believes mobile communications has hit tipping point with the end of the traditional generational paradigm imminent and delivery of products to be replaced by services enhanced on a continuous basis.

7. 5G Redcap, private networks gain momentum in IoT connectivity

As enterprises respond to the demands of the new world of work, they are increasingly recognising the role of the internet of things in driving innovation and operational efficiency, but choosing the right connectivity technology for their specific use cases is still a daunting task, according to the fourth edition of the Connectivity technologies report from Telenor IoT.

The report noted that the range of traditional cellular technologies has expanded with the introduction of 5G, while previous generations such as 2G and 3G are being phased out in many countries. Low-power wide-area (LPWA) technologies that were specifically developed for IoT applications have gained maturity and scale.

8. US private 5G needs major improvements to support business

Companies across the world are seeing the benefits of acquiring packages of mobile spectrum from their countries’ mobile operators to run private networks, and in the US, after years of regulatory, standardisation and technical implementation activities, the citizens broadband radio service (CBRS) in the 3.5GHz spectrum band is helping to support new applications possible at an affordable cost.

However, a study from ABI Research has concluded that despite the continued deployment and commercial success of the CBRS shared spectrum platform, considerable improvements need to be made for large-scale deployments to fulfil the promise of enterprise 5G.

9. Lockheed Martin readies 5G satellite comms for take-off

Aerospace giant Lockheed Martin believes it is now just one step away from showcasing how its space-based capability can reach worldwide after a successful lab demonstration of its technology.

The company said it has validated that its space payload is set to deliver global advanced communications capabilities from orbit with “the industry’s first fully regenerative Advanced 5G non-terrestrial network [NTN] satellite base station”, developed as a space component of the company’s 5G.MIL Unified Network Solutions programme.

In 2024, in a self-funded mission, the company will launch this payload to orbit bringing 5G’s capabilities to “the final frontier” to prove its capability to connect the globe.

10. 5G service expansion to drive mobile in Asia-Pacific region

Mobile communications services revenue in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 8%, from $326.2bn in 2023 to $479.1bn in 2028, according to research from GlobalData.

The region is becoming the centre of a technological race for supremacy in the next generation of mobile communications, with South Korea, Japan and China going beyond just the deployment of 5G to the creation of a wider 5G ecosystem supporting the vast electronics manufacturing and ICT industries in these countries.

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