U.K. sets goal for ubiquitous standalone 5G by 2030

The U.K. government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology set out a new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy today, and it includes a goal related to standalone (SA) 5G.

The strategy includes the goal to deliver SA 5G to all populated areas in the U.K. by 2030, to extend 4G coverage to 95% of the U.K. population, and to invest £40 million ($49.65 million) to drive innovative 5G-enabled services for businesses and the public sector.

While many wireless carriers in the U.S. and other parts of the world have transitioned their networks to SA 5G, the U.K. carriers are lagging.

According to a Dell’Oro blog earlier this year, the only U.K. provider that had implemented SA 5G by the end of 2022 was Vodafone U.K. The other major wireless operators are BT's EE, O2 and Three.

Now, the government is aiming for SA 5G across the country by 2030, which is still quite a long time-frame.

The topic of SA 5G in Europe came up a few times at the recent MWC Barcelona event. 

Freddie Södergren, Ericsson’s head of technology and strategy at Business Area Networks, said, “We have a number of operators that are struggling with monetizing 5G. They are in very competitive markets where their ability to increase the ARPU is really a challenge. As a result, the business case is difficult. It’s a chicken and egg problem.”
He said European operators “need to get a little understanding of what are the consequences of falling behind on 5G.”

Other aims of U.K. wireless strategy

The government is already investing £1 billion ($1.24 billion) in the Shared Rural Network to deliver 4G coverage to 95% of the U.K. landmass. It said the biggest coverage improvements will happen in rural parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. It also plans to deliver 4G coverage on a further 16,000 kilometers of roads.

The new Wireless Infrastructure Strategy also set out some goals related to spectrum. It said it would ask the U.K. regulator Ofcom to review and set out a clear, evidenced-based and forward-looking rationale for its approach to setting spectrum fees by the end of 2023. And it pledged to work with Ofcom and industry to re-farm spectrum where it is not being used efficiently.

The strategy is also looking at 6G, with the government putting up initial funding of up to £100 million ($124 million) for the next generation of wireless technology.