What are the main challenges to the rollout of 5G in the UK today?
There are many challenges to the rollout of 5G in the UK, both Technical, Financial and Political.
Consumer demand for data and UK Plc’s ambitions for coverage against a backdrop of falling ARPU at the MNO level makes investment decisions critical, the cost of spectrum and the conditions attached play an important role in creating the environment for encouraging the deployment of infrastructure, particularly in the rural areas which may not have a viable commercial business case to support the investment by the operator.
Access to the spectrum and property assets are a challenge. Recent efforts to legislate on the latter to give greater certainty to time and costs of deployment in the short term have had the opposite effect. How best to enable the use of both private investment capital and targeted public funds to relieve some of the burden from the MNO’s should be reviewed to create the conditions necessary to support the large-scale investment required for the widespread deployment of 5G.
From a technical and practical perspective, the complexity of the site, size of antenna, compliment of equipment, and the existing and surrounding infrastructure etc has a significant bearing on the actual site solution, in the case of 5G this could be as an addition to an existing site or a brand new site.
Early and consistent engagement with landlords by experts with knowledge of the market and locality as well as end to end process will be key, eg designing sites with the optimum planning and deployment solution, and managing all stakeholders from inception through to integration in to the network.
What was the origin of your partnership with Huawei?
WHP has been in the wireless infrastructure market in the UK since 1988, working with operators to deploy and upgrade their networks.
Over the last ten years Huawei’s growth as an equipment vendor has been prolific, as Huawei became more embedded in the UK and demand was growing for their services they were looking for high quality companies who could partner with them and provide multiple services in volume to support their growth as they replaced legacy equipment and deployed 4G. WHP with a wealth of experience with MNO’s had recently undergone an MBO and had implemented a strategic growth plan which included supplying end to end services to an increased customer base.
This naturally led to our initial discussions from which we found that we shared some similar attitudes around not only growth and ambition but willingness to challenge norms, innovation and to improve efficiency and quality, so it was really those shared values, ambitions and good timing which enabled us to embark on that journey for both WHP & Huawei.
How does the infrastructure for 5G need to be different to that required for previous iterations of mobile networks?
5G will see the first truly multi-layered networks requiring a more variable site solution than in previous iterations, as well as a larger compliment of equipment on each site.
The macro layer needs to be quite seriously upgraded and densified. This needs to be augmented with a layer of small cells to add capacity and fluidity. In-building also will come in to its own as venues, locations and office complexes will compete and differentiate on connectivity.
Each site will require robust physical engineering and potentially more specialist / bespoke solutions. In recent times physical assets have become smaller and implementation more nimble, however, the new technologies have equipment that is heavier e.g. MIMO antenna and this means more robust engineering and structures needed.
Complex design. Each and every site has a complex design these days either through location to achieve coverage of a specific area or due to the type of installation e.g. multiple operators, multiple technologies and as a consequence each site needs more design input sign-off, interfacing checking etc.
What are the likely costs associated with upgraded infrastructure to prepare for 5G?
The costs will be significant as upgrading the infrastructure in some cases will be more expensive than the original site due to swapping towers for more heavy duty infrastructure to cope with the new additional equipment. The restrictions imposed on putting this in place in terms of network downtime whilst working on a live network also make it much more difficult than building new infrastructure from scratch for instance.
The key to success and minimising costs is dimensioning early and giving stakeholders visibility of a stable programme. This allows a stable high quality resources deployed in a planned manner with efficient utilisation, minimising downtime and abortive effort.
How long do you think it will take for us to really reap the benefits of 5G?
We would anticipate 5G will take 7-10 years to build out fully, however with 5G capable handsets shipping this year and 5G network roll out underway we will see some initial benefits much sooner, the clamour for self driving or autonomous vehicles and smart motorways would suggest that consumers will be able to access some of that functionality in certain areas within the next two years.
The use of social media and apps will drive the take up in usage and real time critical applications once the network is established in the main urban areas. Within 5 years we would expect tO see major benefits as the mobile experience converges with the widespread FTTP network and users are able to utilise contiguous connectivity.
What will be the biggest change that 5G will bring about?
Everything and everyone connected in real time all the time.
We envisage the network revolution / evolution will enable the whole future of technologies to be fulfilled. For example, the ground breaking initiatives are:
5G will enable individuals, businesses and communities, it will be a pre-requisite for social inclusion going forwards and transform the way we interact.
How would you describe the relationship with Huawei, and what does each side bring to it?
Our relationship with Huawei has developed since 2014 and it has been a challenging and successful period for both company’s. Overall it has been a good experience, we value our relationship and what we have achieved together, we share similar values and ambition and are positioned to have more mutual success in the future.
We see Huawei bringing world class expert technology, innovation, drive, support and boundless energy to the programmes. We believe WHP brings deep knowledge and expertise in our service area, experience, broad resources, can-do attitude, high ethics, unrivalled experience, challenge, innovation, value and commercial fairness.
What benefits will 5G bring to business – do you have any use cases you could share?
There are many benefits that businesses will gain from the greater and faster connectivity facilitated by 5G, that could include realtime monitoring of exercise / calorie intake from an interactive personal training plan at the simple end. To a real time monitoring and intervention situation for intensive care at critical times enabling the efficiency of expert care coupled with AI across a wider number of people than is currently possible.
In general communication and therefore information and action will be able to be delivered quicker, interactively and in a mobile environment, it is difficult to think of a business that would not benefit from this capability.
Rob Potter is managing director, WHP