Rural campaigners warn Chancellor over 5G: don’t run before you can walk


A recent study claims mobile users received a 4G connection 43.7 per cent of the time between June and August 2016

Rural campaigners in the UK have accused the government of trying to “run before it can walk” after it promised to invest nearly £300 million into 5G technologies.

Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the investment last month in the Spring Budget. More than £16 million will be invested into an “innovation network” designed to work with research institutions developing 5G.

An additional £270 million will be used for technology reliant on this, such as robotics and self-driving cars.

Brand new technology

However, a recent study from consumer watchdog Which? claimed mobile users could only get 4G coverage 43.7 per cent of time between June and August last year.

Country Land and Business Association senior economist Charles Trotman argued the government should focus on improving 3G and 4G first before it looks at 5G.

“5G is a brand new technology being piloted in urban areas and certainly won’t be in rural [areas] for a few years,” he said.

“What we want is a suitable and adequate mobile service now, which we can’t get. We’ve got a number of rural areas which can’t get an effective 3G signal, let alone 5G.”

“Nobody is in any way sure how effective 5G will be. It’s got to be tested and that’s not what the country requires at the moment. We don’t have universal coverage with 3G. I think the government is running before it can walk and it hasn’t thought about this properly.

“Moreover, the operators themselves would have to be satisfied they get a return on investment. I’m not convinced they think they could.”

Additional spend

O2 and Three have disputed the claims, however, adding investment in 2G and 3G upgrades is a priority.

An O2 spokesperson said: “Over the last quarter we invested more than £2 million in our network each day and our 4G network continues to grow in both urban and rural locations – available to O2 customers in 11,680 towns, cities and villages across the UK.

“Our latest coverage stands at just under 90 per cent indoor population – that’s over 95.8 per cent outdoor population coverage. We’ll continue to upgrade our 2G and 3G networks and roll out 4G as part of our five year modernisation program until we achieve our target of 98 per cent UK (indoor) population coverage by the end of 2017.”

A Three spokesperson welcomed the additional spend: “Mobile operators need greater rights to rollout the additional infrastructure required for 5G so that all consumers, business and Digital Britain can enjoy the benefits of 5G at the earliest possible opportunity.”