The Committee has chosen to publish material submitted to its inquiry into broadband and 5G. Publication does not indicate any endorsement of the views expressed or validate any claims within that material.

 

You can read about our inquiry here: https://committees.parliament.uk/work/89/broadband-and-the-road-to-5g/publications/

Full Fact have published information about 5G conspiracies: https://fullfact.org/online/5g-and-coronavirus-conspiracy-theories-came/

You can find out how to spot false information online here: https://sharechecklist.gov.uk/

 

 

 

Supplementary written evidence submitted by techUK

 

 

 

To the DCMS Select Committee,

 

Broadband and the Road to 5G – The impact of COVID-19

 

We are writing to you on behalf of the techUK Communications Infrastructure Programme following your revised questions on the impact of COVID-19. This should be seen as an addendum to our initial response to your inquiry which is included with this letter.

 

Gigabit networks, focused around full fibre and wireless systems, are critical infrastructure supporting the ongoing development of the UK’s digital economy. Now, more than ever, digital networks and services are key, supporting the UK’s economic development and resilience.

 

Telecoms industry response to COVID-19 situation

 

The telecoms sector has enabled an effective lockdown during the pandemic with support for business remote working and personal communications.  This was not guaranteed. Scare stories over networks not being able to cope with demand abounded at the start of the pandemic. Whilst the total amount of data passing through fixed networks is increased[1], effective measures taken by the industry ensured ongoing communications availability.

 

In terms of delivering for the frontline, the sector has responded in a number of ways. From the practical – of WiFi provisioning for Nightingale Hospitals[2] to quickly developing a national SMS text message system[3] and scaling the NHS 111 number.

 

The sector also announced a wide-ranging package[4] to ensure that vulnerable people and families remained online. This include prioritising repairs, not cutting off people who are in financial difficulty, ‘zero-rating’ NHS websites and relevant charities, and providing support to families with children so that they can access online learning.

 

This work took place against the low rumble of conspiracy theories linking 5G to COVID-19. This led to verbal and threats of physical abuse against engineers and arson attacks against infrastructure. Government condemnation and coordination with the Home Office and social media platforms was strongly welcomed as these key workers kept our digital infrastructure up and running.

 

Impact on the sector

 

In order to deliver this response, operators have had to marshal their resources effectively. At times, engineering home visits have been restricted to those most in need and the emphasis has been on maintaining the network in place rather than expanding it. There is also great uncertainty about the wider economic picture which naturally increases the risk posed by large scale investments.

 

A combination of these factors has effectively resulted in a number of months of impact on deployment and build activity due to the lockdown effects.  We are not yet far enough out of the crisis to understand the longer-term impacts of this on project build timescales. However, without further focus on the barriers to and enablers of network build, there is likely to be an impact on the rollout of gigabit networks in the form of both full fibre and 5G and other key programmes. Operators’ individual responses will be able to provide greater detail about any regional breakdown disparity in the delay.

 

Actions to expedite rollout and our economic recovery

 

The crisis has shown beyond doubt that strong digital infrastructure underpins our economy and society today. If this crisis had struck 15 years ago, it is hard to imagine that the country would have been able to lockdown so tightly for such a prolonged period – the economy would have suffered even greater impact and social isolation would have been more difficult.

 

New full fibre networks are less costly to maintain and have lower fault rates than legacy copper networks – so that’s less time customers are without their critical connectivity. The raising of Government ambition, accompanied by facilitating action from the regulator, has unleashed a wave of investment into the sector driving fibre networks[5]. This increases overall resilience as well as driving down operational costs and increasing innovation in customer services. techUK also believes that as we recover and renew following the crisis, we should make sure that we are also taking a leadership role in combatting climate change. Full fibre networks use less energy, even though they have greater capacity[6].

 

5G and wireless adds to resilience in different ways. Firstly, the capacity that it offers means that if our fixed networks encounter a problem then end-users can shift to wireless in the interim.

Gigabit networks do not just increase our resiliency to crises, they can help drive the economic recovery that’s occurred as a result of COVID-19 and make us more competitive as we leave the EU. Importantly, they do so across all parts of the United Kingdom.

 

Barclays Bank have stated that 5G could support the economy by £15.7bn by 2025. This growth is well spread across the country with increased business revenue of £1.4bn in The North West and £1.3bn in the East of England[7]. Likewise, it has been estimated that a nationwide full fibre deployment could add £59bn to the UK economy by 2025, with regions again benefiting with Scotland benefiting from a £5bn boost and the South West by £4.2bn[8].

 

To make up from this lost ground and build the networks that we need, the UK needs to be an attractive destination for investment in digital infrastructure. 

 

We will need more empowering actions to guarantee that we catch up and achieve the 2025 ambition, ensuring that Government prioritise the acceleration of deployment of full fibre and wireless for the next five years, working with industry, the regulator, and local authorities to ensure this is met.

 

In order to regain lost ground, techUK believes that:

-         The UK Government should make the rollout of Gigabit networks, a strategic priority, balancing priorities for five years,

-         Set out a detailed plan for the £5bn of Government funding committed to provide industry with certainty,

-         Actively support the build out of the Shared Rural Network, and

-         Bring demand-side solutions to the table to drive greater digital adoption.

 


Yours sincerely,

 

Andrew Conway

Chair, Communications Infrastructure Council

 

Ian Corden,

Vice Chair, Communications Infrastructure Council

 

Chris Cheeseman,

Vice Chair, Communications Infrastructure Council

 

 

 

 


[1] https://www.techuk.org/insights/opinions/item/17315-guest-blog-internet-traffic-and-the-coronavirus

[2] https://newscentre.vodafone.co.uk/features/coronavirus-how-vodafone-uk-is-helping-the-nhs/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-sms-messages

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-agrees-measures-with-telecoms-companies-to-support-vulnerable-consumers-through-covid-19

[5] https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2020/04/summary-of-full-fibre-build-progress-across-uk-broadband-isps.html/2

[6] https://www.telefonica.com/en/web/responsible-business/article/-/blogs/did-you-know-that-fibre-optics-needs-7-times-less-energy-than-copper-connectedwiththeplanet

[7] https://home.barclays/news/press-releases/2019/04/5g-technology-boost-to-uk-economy/

[8] https://www.openreach.com/full-fibre-impact