In taking the UK out of the European Union one of the Government’s first priorities must be to ensure that it has in place a credible and long-term plan to invest and deliver the infrastructure the country needs. Only then can it work towards its goal of remaining one of the most connected and competitive countries in the world. Mobile infrastructure must be at the heart of this plan.
Getting this right is vital. Good infrastructure brings clear economic benefits and long-term growth. For example, for every £1 invested by the Government £3.20 is returned through increased GDP, and can result in an increase of up to 108,000 jobs per year. For every £1 spent on internet connectivity (mobile and fixed broadband networks), an additional £5 in value is created. It can also have a powerful impact on rebalancing growth around the country.
While the focus of attention is likely to remain on big government investment projects, such as HS2, it should be emphasised that more than half of the investment set out in the National Infrastructure Delivery Plan will be in privately owned assets, and within that plan digital communications are arguably the most dependent on the private sector and of critical importance to the Government’s desire to ensure that the UK’s digital sectors remain world leading.
Achieving these aims needs a vibrant, competitive and attractive environment for mobile companies. It requires a shift in the approach to the sector from the Government that enhances and speeds up reform. Currently the four main operators are part way through a £5bn investment programme to densify and extend the coverage of their networks. By the end of 2017 the mobile operators are committed to providing 90% coverage and at least one operator will have 4G indoor premises coverage to 98% of the population. The eventual productivity gains from 4G mobile services could be up to 0.7 per cent of GDP or £12bn per year at today’s levels.
Competition for investment is global and the main operators, as international firms, must make decisions about where to invest. It is therefore important that for the UK to continue to attract and grow its mobile infrastructure it creates the right environment to incentivise investment. However, for the industry this is sadly not always the case. There continues to exist several barriers to effective mobile deployment and changes to the policy and regulatory environment have failed to keep up with technological and societal change.
Barriers come in several forms but chief among them continues to be the time it takes to identify a site and achieve the relevant permissions to install mobile equipment. Additionally, the cost in accessing these sites continues to be too high and we strongly urge the Government to bring into force agreed changes to the reformed Electronic Communications Code which aims to lower the cost of infrastructure deployment. Furthermore, we would like to see mobile coverage and capacity embedded upfront at all levels across all strategic development and growth plans to ensure that it is considered early on and not once development has taken place.
The mobile operators remain deeply committed to the UK market and are actively working with the Government to deliver on their obligations. However, there is more that can be done to help the industry build a mobile Britain and deliver the necessary mobile infrastructure to support customer appetite for mobile connectivity. The industry needs stronger policy and regulatory support to ensure it has fewer barriers to overcome when deploying mobile networks. Only then can the UK deliver on the Government’s stated aim of remaining one of the most connected and competitive nations in the world and secure a strong economy for the future.
1. Cambridge Economics, 2014
2. AT Kearney, 2014
3. Capital Economics, 2014