Fibre installation needed for 5G being hampered by government policies

Government policy and regulation are the biggest barriers to large scale investment in fibre optic infrastructure in the UK, key figures from the telecommunications sector have argued.

At an event hosted by law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, 50 per cent of attendees; which included representatives from major telecoms, broadband and technology companies; argued that government regulation and policy were the major roadblocks to new large-scale full fibre infrastructure investment in the UK.

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Access to funding and challenging economics were the other factors cited as key drags on investment while just four per cent blamed market conditions and structure.

Fibre optic infrastructure is vital for future wireless mobile phone networks such as 5G, which will provide broadband-speed downloads for mobile phone users.

Managing director of broadband company Hyperoptic, Dana Tobak, said that local councils not granting wayleaves (right of way) was slowing its installation programme.

“One of our biggest challenges is actually getting wayleaves in local authority buildings,” she said.

“There seems to be a disconnect in appreciating that in order to get full fibre you actually need to put fibre in there,” she added.

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Head of public affairs and policy at Virgin Media Daniel Butler said that while the government talked a good game on fibre installation, some of its policies were distinctly unhelpful.

“Theres been somewhat of a mismatch between governments enthusiastic rhetoric to get as much infrastructure based competition as possible in to the UK market and some of the policy decisions weve seen emerge,” he said.

Butler cited an increase in business rates and wholesale price controls on superfast broadband as the types of government policies that were slowing the installation of fibre networks.

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The government is currently in the midst of a review of the UKs fibre infrastructure as part of its industrial strategy.

Chief economist at BT Emily Clark welcomed the review and called for market-based solutions to the UKs infrastructure rollout.

“It feels like the time is ripe for a rethink about whether we have the right market model, the right regulatory framework and what we need to do to move towards a better model if one is needed,” she said.

Earlier this month mobile phone companies Hutchison 3G, Telefonica, EE and Vodafone were announced as the winners in Ofcoms £1.4bn 4G and 5G airwave spectrum auction.

Spectrum group director at Ofcom Philip Marnick said: “Releasing these airwaves will make it quicker and easier to get online on the move. It will also allow companies to prepare for 5G mobile, paving the way for a range of smart, connected devices.”

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