I recently had the privilege of hosting a panel discussion at the inaugural Connected North event in Manchester explore the future case of 5G networks. My panel guests included Jessica Ellis of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS), Rosemary Kay of Liverpool’s eHealth Cluster and Paul Coffey of the Scotland 5G Centre. This article summarises some of the findings from that panel discussion, augmented by addition industry discussions, and examines the future business case for 5G networks.
Fostering Public-Private Collaboration
The timing of the Connected North panel was fortuitous as the Department for DCMS has, in the last few months, announced the competition winners of the Digital Communications Infrastrucure Accelerator (DCIA) initiative designed to accelerate the rollout of commercial 5G networks.
Jessica told Intelligens Consulting that, “The DCIA was designed to foster public-private collaboration”.
The DCIA requires local authorities to map public assets – resulting in a digitally mapped asset register - that can be used by mobile network operators (MNOs) or neutral host operators (NHOs) to support the deployment of public 5G cellular networks.
“Although mapping assets digitally is necessary it is unlikely to result in any significant investment momentum”
Read more about the DCIA and the benefits of mapping assets digitally here.
While the industry is agreed that mapping assets digitally is a necessary hygiene factor and a necessary precursor to rolling our densified commercial 5G networks resulting in ultra-fast commercial 5G services, it is unlikely to result in any significant momentum, in the short term at least.
There are a few reasons for this.
In discussions we have had with the industry, MNOs and NHOs are simply not focussed on deploying densified small cell public 5G networks in city centres. Instead, their current focus is on upgrading indoor cellular networks to 5G and upgrading outdoor 4G macro networks to 5G.
Our 5G tracker corroborates these industry findings. It shows that the fastest download speed measured on any 5G network in the UK was 256 Mbit/s in Nottingham City Centre. This is far from the multigigabit nirvana that has long been promised by 5G enthusiasts. The true benefits of ‘full 5G’ have yet to come and we are a long way off from that.
Absence Of A Killer Use Case
The second reason is that there is a notable absence of a ‘killer use case’ or ‘use cases’ to incentivise MNOs and NHOs to invest in 5G networks at any scale.
“Private 5G networks are the way to go according to neutral host operators”
Liverpool’s eHealth Cluster has attempted to overcome this. Thanks to a GBP 4.3 injection of public subsidy, the eHealth Cluster is supporting Liverpool’s 5G Create Connecting Health and Social Care Project to create a stand-alone, private 5G network.
Liverpool’s private 5G network will provide connectivity to people’s homes, GP surgeries, care homes and for mobile workers to deliver health, social care and education services.
NHOs are also telling us that private 5G networks leveraging subsidy and public sector anchor use cases are the way to go to stimulate investment in public commercial 5G cellular services, and that they are seeing some momentum building towards this across other local authorities such as in the West Midlands.
Developing The Business Case For Financial Sustainability
While there are many benefits of the anchor tenant model to support the initial use case it is, however, highly dependent upon public subsidy.
In other words, the commercial model is still largely unproven as it cannot rely on public subsidy ad infinitum.
The financial sustainability of the anchor tenant approach requires additional income streams to ensure it is financially sustainable over the long term.
“We recently took on this took on this challenge for a local authority and developed a commercially sustainable business case for a private 5G connected tourism use case”
We recently took on the challenge to develop a commercially sustainable 5G business case for a local authority.
Our team developed an outline business case for a virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and 5G enabled tourism project designed to revitalise the tourist economy.
This business case presented a compelling case for a ‘connected tourism’ experience that would stimulate investment in private 5G infrastructure which could be leveraged to stimulate further commercially led investment to provide public 5G cellular services.
Connected tourism is also expected to strengthen the visitor economy, boosting the region’s post-pandemic economic recovery while future proofing digital infrastructure for future generations.
The business case incorporated additional income streams which improved the economic impact and the long-term commercial and self-sustainability of the project. The business case was also instrumental in their bid to secure levelling up funds.
You can read more about this project here.
How We Can Help
Intelligens Consulting has advised several local authorities to unlock hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment in fibre, 5G and IoT networks at zero cost to the taxpayer resulting in GBP billions in economic impact and creating smarter connected places.
Our team of technology, strategy, economic, procurement and finance experts can also provide strategic, technical and procurement support, research and economic analysis and we can source private funders to finance the development of digital infrastructure.
Please contact us should you wish to learn more about our approach and anything else discussed in this article.