The government ‘needs’ to take leadership on forging a more dynamic environment for ultrafast broadband and wireless networks
Ramping up digital connectivity is crucial for the UK to remain competitive following exit from the European Union, according to a new study from industry body techUK.
The report recommended the government take actions including amending Ofcom’s statutory duties to improve the regulatory environment for innovative digital services.
Other recommendations included supporting a higher and sustained level of investment in fixed and wireless communications networks from industry, boosting collaboration between the government and industry, considering innovative spectrum licences and ensuring the UK continues to participate in European and international technology development efforts.
The study emphasises the importance of connectivity to emerging digital applications across all sectors of the country, including farming and policing.
“As the UK looks to reposition itself as Global Britain, improving digital infrastructure will also incentivise investment and innovation necessary to raise productivity and deliver economic growth for the whole country,” said techUK chief executive Julian David.
He said boosting the UK’s connectivity would require setting up “more effective and efficient partnerships across all levels of government and with public agencies and industry”.
Targets recommended by the study for 2020 include near-universal availability of superfast broadband and at least 90 percent availability of ultrafast broadband, widespread geographic coverage by a variety wireless networks along with early 5G commercial deployment, near-ubiquitous mobile broadband on roads, on-board mobile broadband and Wi-Fi on all major rail routes and seamless Wi-Fi connections in airports.
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techUK argues the UK must remember that it’s competing not only with other European countries, but also with aspiring nations that may have fewer regulatory constraints, a lack of legacy networks and significant public sector investment.
“As a result, the benchmark for great connectivity is continuously shifting,” the report finds. “To remain in the top league, we need to continue to expand and enhance our capability in digital connectivity, which will require higher but sustainable levels of investment.”
On farms, the group argues the widespread use of internet-enabled precision techniques allowing farmers to work on a per-plant and animal basis could help overcome revenue and labour challenges.
“Great connectivity will drive the uptake of automated agribots, the use of a variety of low cost sensor packages, including the use of drones,” the report states. “Cloud computing will enable the better use of data analysis as well as the reduction of costs incurred due to reporting.”
Advanced networks could allow police to instantly share information including DNA and fingerprint data and to livestream video footage to control rooms.
techUK praised Ofcom for promoting “pioneering, innovative and dependable regulatory approaches”, but argued reworking its statutory duties could aid in creating a more flexible regulatory environment that could include localised, licence-exempt or dynamic spectrum access mechanisms.
The group cautioned that the UK will need to continue to align itself with EU-led spectrum approaches and to collaborate with the EU and member states on wireless and digital standards initiatives. But it argued the UK could ideally find itself “at liberty to align its policies with the EU where it sees fit but also able to diverge where benefits arise”.
“As we forge new trading relationships with our neighbours in Europe and across the world, it is a priority that the UK remains one of the top locations for developing and using digital technology,” techUK wrote in the report. “To achieve this, we must set ourselves an ambition to have great connectivity, not only in comparison with our European counterparts but across the world.”
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