This year’s global events have transformed the world of work in unprecedented ways. Social media is full of advice on remote working and home schooling and it looks increasingly like the shift to online could be a long-term legacy of the pandemic, rather than a short-term blip. It has also exposed the strategic urgency of connecting every part of the UK to robust high-speed communications networks – both fixed and mobile.
In fixed, the pressure is building to speed up the roll-out of fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), while 5G looks set to be a huge disruptor in mobile over the coming months. Whether fixed or mobile, higher broadband speeds have long been a key strategic goal and now is the time to make them a reality across the nation. This will be critical in ensuring a buoyant recovery for UK plc as we tackle the economic fallout from the pandemic.
In the fixed domain, the government has increased pressure on broadband infrastructure providers by setting targets for gigabit connections and ring-fencing investment for fibre roll-outs – particularly in rural and remote locations.
In December 2019, the Queen’s speech made it clear that full fibre connectivity remains a high priority for the UK. But goals and targets will not be enough to ensure that we scale the network up quickly and future-proof the nation’s infrastructure.
Ofcom’s decision to ensure that alternative networks (altnets) can access Openreach’s duct and pole infrastructure is certainly a step in the right direction. It should increase competition and lead to more cost-effective networks being rolled out quickly.
However, this is just one measure and more work is still required. There are approximately 27 million homes in the UK and ensuring each has a first-rate internet connection is a significant challenge. Meeting it quickly and efficiently will require a substantial capital expenditure from providers.
In mobile, there has been good news and bad news, but it’s no exaggeration to suggest that the roll-out of 5G will transform the range mobile services on offer. The arrival of previous generations of mobile communications technologies was largely about being able to do the same things faster. The arrival of 5G instead paves the way for an entirely new generation of services. Why? Because 5G effectively promises consumers, enterprises and smart objects their own slice of the network, tailored to meet their specific needs with the perfect combination of characteristics, such as capacity, latency and security.
On the positive side, the government signed a £1 billion deal in March that saw the four main UK mobile operators sign up to collectively increase mobile phone coverage throughout the UK to 95% by the end of 2025. This was followed in July by a plan to relax planning constraints and help 5G masts deployed quickly.
On the downside, the news that UK networks would be banned from buying Huawei 5G equipment by the end of 2020 and would have to remove and Huawei kit from their networks by 2027 will inevitably delay the UK’s 5G rollout.
Even so, the 5G juggernaut is gaining momentum.
Lessons from other markets
There is much we can learn from fixed and mobile communications rollouts in other countries. At NTT DATA we have worked across Europe and can offer some valuable lessons gained along the way; especially in Spain, which is one of the most mature markets.
For instance, one thing we’ve learned is that making the physical infrastructure access (PIA) as easy as possible will be essential for comprehensive FTTP connections to be viable and rolled out at speed.
Additionally, widespread adoption of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) can speed up data transfer between legacy systems and support fixed-mobile convergence. In the complex, converged networks of the future, artificial intelligence will be crucial for managing scheduling and route planning, with generic APIs playing a key role in simplifying processes. Many may consider these small IT details, but they make a huge difference.
Building better networks
NTT DATA is committed to building communication networks that are as streamlined as possible, achieving this through three main areas of focus:
Network Project Management
Providing a planning and deployment office to help manage the roll-out of an FTTP network with key capabilities, including way leave, logistics, network component standardisation and PIA management.
This has been our core involvement in the Spanish market – where we played a pivotal role in a large-scale nationwide fibre roll-out.
NTT DATA has access to the most advanced and accurate civilian satellite imagery in the world and we are already using it to help plan 5G networks in the UK. This data can be used to help plan fixed line fibre networks too – generating a uniquely detailed 3D urban image is useful for planning fibre routes and propagation.
NTT DATA is at the heart of the latest network innovations whether it be our industry leading position on Open RAN for mobile or our investment in R&D in the latest Photonics technology vian our IOWN project.
We are committed to bringing the latest innovation and network approaches to the UK market to improve all our lives.
Full fibre connectivity
As we look ahead, it is increasingly clear that the rapid shift to online that we have experienced this year will be with us far longer than the pandemic itself, especially since (as we all hope) 2021 heralds the arrival of a successful vaccination programme.
This long-awaited change to a more flexible working schedule will only serve to pile on the pressure for the UK to hit its targets for communications infrastructure, both fibre roll-out and 5G. NTT DATA has invaluable insights and experience that could help make the process as efficient as possible – combining technological advancements with deep knowledge of networks and the telco industry.