4G masts switched on in Wales towards closing the digital divide and spurring economic growth

From: techUK
Published: Wed Mar 20 2024

This month, March 2024, 86 4G masts have been switched on in Wales. The forms part of the UK government-funded Shared Rural Network (SRN), a 1billion plan to boost mobile connectivity.

A reminder that the SRN is a deal with EE, O2, Three and Vodafone investing in a network of new and existing phone masts, overseen by Digital Mobile Spectrum Limited. Through this, the UK government set out an ambition to achieve 95% 4G mobile coverage across the UK landmass by December 2025 - up from 91.4% when the programme launched in March 2020.

However, the National Audit Office noted in February 2024 that the programme is behind schedule, and that it is unclear whether the Government programme to expand 4G mobile connectivity in rural areas will be delivered on time. techUK continues to hear from members on the cost pressures and delayed planning system impacting investment and delivery.

Access to good quality mobile connectivity is key to growing the UK economy and tackling the digital divide. But the right incentives must be in place to enable this. This includes classifying strategic digital infrastructure as nationally significant. Along with a longer term R&D strategy.

Future mobile connectivity plans were outlined in the UK government's 2023 Wireless Infrastructure Strategy (WIS). Many techUK members welcomed the strategy, with targets and aims to kick-start investment and innovation in 5G infrastructure. The WIS also set out the new ambition for standalone 5G in all populated areas by 2030. But one year on, what has been delivered and what more must the government do to ensure delivery? techUK will be convening industry on this in our upcoming webinar on 16 April.

techUK continues to work to bring together key connectivity players, establishing key barriers to the rollout and uptake of digital infrastructure and connectivity. Through our Telecoms Infrastructure Working Group, we gather feedback on current policy and regulatory challenges. A key message continues to be the need for government departments to treat telecoms as a sector with significant economic value and of significant national importance. Action must be taken to demonstrate where digital connectivity will meet the next government's objectives and be at the forefront of cutting technology and social inclusion.

Last week's call on tightening rules to broadband poles also made clear that collaboration between industry, communities and local authorities is paramount for mobile connectivity delivery and to meet local needs. Along with collaboration, techUK continues to hear from members on the need to improve mobile network economics to deliver 5G ambitions by anchoring next-generation spending, and confirming/codifying a di-minimis approach to small cells/network densification. As well as enabling quicker and more efficient delivery of economic benefits, including completing PSTI and ECC implementation.

Indeed, to drive further investment and ensure uptake of both gigabit-capable and 5G technology, and as outlined in our UK Tech Plan, techUK continues to call for the next Government to work with the telecoms sector to devise a new strategy that includes targets to: achieve 85% full fibre take-up by 2030 and encourage the widespread adoption of standalone 5G across businesses.

Company: techUK

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