Introduction

Significant new private investment in fibre and mobile connectivity in cities is planned over the next five years, backed by the national government’s ambition to create a ‘world class’ digital infrastructure. While the UK performs well on current digital connectivity measures compared to other countries, around the world national governments, cities and network operators are pushing ahead to build better digital connectivity.

Leadership in 5G is a strategic ambition of the EU, US, Japan and China.1 To achieve the Government’s ambition it is therefore important for UK cities to get to grips with this rollout to avoid falling behind international rivals and deliver improvements in connectivity that citizens and workers will expect.

The rollout of full fibre will be an accelerated continuation of what has gone before. On mobile, significant upgrades of networks using existing technologies mean more masts and cells to provide greater 4G mobile capacity to keep up with mobile data demands which are growing by around 50 per cent a year.2 Cities have long worked with broadband, fibre and mobile network providers to balance investment, access and public and private benefit, and this partnership will deepen as these networks densify.

A ‘world class’ digital infrastructure in cities will require a fibre network connecting every building as well as significantly more 4G — and soon 5G — cells. This could see lampposts connected to fibre networks in order to host microcells. London alone is expected to require 500,000 cells in order to offer 5G everywhere.3 This report offers advice and support to national government and cities on how to manage this significant uptick in investment in physical infrastructure in a way that is most efficient, effective and least disruptive for citizens and businesses.

But there are already digital divides in many cities. Citizens and businesses are yet to fully grasp the economic and social benefits of existing digital infrastructure. Realising its full potential requires awareness, skills and confidence.

Cities have already had significant experience working with mobile and fibre network operators to deal with the growth of fixed connection and greater mobile data capacity. To ensure that this latest wave of investment in digital infrastructure has the greatest positive impact for people and businesses, this report will highlight how cities such as London and York are working to become world class in their utilisation of today’s networks and technology to improve the management, productivity and inclusiveness of their cities.

This report sets out practical advice to cities and makes recommendations to the government and businesses on what they can do to improve urban digital connectivity. The report is split into three sections:

  • Section one looks at the state of physical and digital infrastructure across UK cities.
  • Section two looks at how to support investment and rollout of the hardware that will be required – the fibre connections and a dense network of cells running into and on top of nearly every building.
  • Section three looks at what cities can do to ensure that individuals, businesses and the public sector are able to take up the potential of this hardware.

Footnotes

  • 1 BEREC (2018) ‘Study on the Implications of 5G Deployment and Future Business Models’
  • 2 Ofcom (2017) ‘ The Communications Market Report 2017’
  • 3 LGA (2017) ‘Facilitating the next generation of mobile connectivity’ https://www.local.gov.uk/our-support/ our-improvement-offer/case-studies/facilitating-next-generation-mobile-connectivity