How will we really deploy 5G in Scotland?
Updated: Jun 30
5G is the standard for next generation mobile networks. Expectations of 5G are high and is promising to transform end-user experiences, new applications, new business models and new services riding on the back of multi-gigabit speeds, improved network performance and reliability. 5G networks are forecast by independent economic studies to deliver very significant economic gains.
The UK Government has been funding 5G pilots across the UK for a number of years now; the Scottish Government, keen not to miss out on the prize, issued a 5G strategy and action plan on how it intends to support Scotland become a 5G leader.
This article provides a useful summary and analysis of the key points made in the Scottish Government’s 5G strategy.
Remote and rural 5G use cases
The 5G strategy states that the Scottish Government will work with partners to define and fund a number of 5G uses cases. Two key points stand out: Remote and rural use cases feature heavily as does the aspiration to enable commercial productivity through the Internet of Things (IoT).
On the first point, making a commercially sustainable business case for 5G in remote and rural areas is challenging. That’s why in its latest series of rural funded 5G pilots the UK Government insisted that proposals for remote and rural use cases must submit demonstrate commercially sustainability beyond the initial funding period.
On the second point, the Scottish Government has already funded a Scotland wide IoT network using LoRaWAN technology. IoT Scotland seems to have a heavy focus towards public sector applications particularly with a focus on herd to reach areas.
While admirable, there is a danger that 5G is pedalled as the optimal connectivity solution for remote and rural areas. 5G use cases in remote and rural areas should, at least initially, complement existing lower cost technologies and solutions to stand any chance of achieving commercial sustainability. Further, there must be clear guidance on maintaining separation between 5G based IoT use cases and those using IoT Scotland, otherwise this will result in a duplication of infrastructure and sub-optimal value for money for the public sector.
Access to public sector assets and supporting local authorities
Public sector assets (Council owned streetlights in particular) are extremely useful in the deployment of 5G networks particularly in urban areas. The 5G strategy states it will make it easier to access public sector assets.
However, giving telecoms operators access to streetlights has led some to local authorities being threatened with legal action thanks to recently introduced and very controversial telecoms legislation. It is of no surprise therefore that Intelligens Consulting has witnessed a number of local authorities significantly downgrade their plans to support the roll out of 5G networks as a result.
Fixing this botched legislation to balance the public interest with the commercial interest of telecoms operators will take time but is essential. In the meantime, the Scottish Government should sponsor an industry wide discussion between operators and local authorities to settle on a process that mitigates the threat of any legal challenge when making streetlights available.
Digitising transport and the neutral host model
The strategy states the ambition to create sustainable 5G rail and road corridors and to promote the use of the neutral host model.
Intelligens Consulting has recently advised a number of UK transport authorities on their 4G and 5G strategy and has learned that the demand case for complete coverage is not sustainable except in a few rare cases where demand is extremely high and concentrated.
The demand case is difficult even when assuming the neutral host model.
Further, achieving complete trackside or roadside coverage by 5G will require a significant multimillion investment in 5G technology and is highly sensitive to demand and market conditions.
That investment is unlikely to be met by the private sector alone. The Scottish Government will need to make a significant multimillion pound investment to support the availability of roadside and trackside infrastructure if full 5G coverage is desired.
The much awaited 5G strategy is highly welcome. It signals the Scottish Government’s intention of becoming a 5G leader and sets the ambition in the right trajectory. Now the Government must work with industry experts with the detailed knowledge and expertise to accelerate these plans and aspirations so that Scotland can thrive in a 5G future.
If you still want to know about 5G more then you can read a 5G report written by Intelligens Consulting, “Overcoming 5G Challenges and Barriers”, for the International Telecommunications Union at www.IntelligensConsulting.com. You can contact us using info@IntelligensConsulting.com
This article was first published in October 2019.