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O2 CEO: Planning Reform Is Needed If UK To Be A 5G Leader

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Ronan Dunne will leave O2 after 15 years but says out of the box thinking and better regulation will ensure UK isn’t left behind in 5G and smart city race

The outgoing CEO of O2 has warned the UK might not be able to keep up with advances in 5G and smart cities unless the government reforms mobile infrastructure planning laws and thinks beyond the deployment of fixed networks.

Ronan Dunne has been with the operator for 15 years and has served as CEO since 2008, but stood down after the failed £10.25 billion merger with Three.

He will join Verizon later this month but used an interview with the Financial Times to reiterate his belief that the country needs to make it easier to rollout next generation infrastructure if it is to be a leader in smart city applications such as connected cars.

5G race

Ronan Dunne (right) and Mark Evans photographed at O2's headquarters in Slough. PR Handout - free for editorial usage Copyright: © Mikael Buck / O2

This includes having a more open mind with regards to how this is delivered. Dunne said the recent focus within the industry has been fixed connectivity and how Openreach should be governed. Instead, he argued, wireless could be more effective and privately funded.

“In the longer-term, we will forget this stupid debate about rolling out fibre cables,” he told the FT. “The UK taxpayers have to pay BT for digging holes in the ground which doesn’t make a lot of sense in this day and age.”

Changes to the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) have long been called for by mobile operators, including O2, as something which should be afforded by the Digital Economy Act in the near future.

At present, operators must negotiate with landowners every time they want to build or even upgrade a mast and local planning regulations make it difficult to use council street furniture. The new bill should ease the amount of paperwork and give network operators rights similar to those enjoyed by utility companies.

Digital Economy Bill

O2’s CTO Brendan O’ Reilly told TechWeekEurope earlier this year that the proposed changes would have a significant impact on network rollout.

“We were pleased at the first reading of the bill,” he said. “But really to do it we need the support of local government as well. It’s about building partnership and we need to show communities the benefits of being connected.”

O2, along with its UK rivals, has been a supporter of the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey, one of several 5G projects taking place around the world. The standard is yet to be finalised, but the speed, capacity and low latency they are predicted to provide will help support a range of new apps and services when the first commercial 5G networks go live by 2020.

Dunne will be replaced by O2’s current CFO Mark Evans.

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