5G rollout delays could hinder ‘levelling up’ agenda

The Centre for Policy Studies has warned that delays to the rollout of 5G could cost the country tens of billions of pounds in lost economic output.

The think tank’s new report, Upwardly Mobile: How the UK can gain the full benefits of the 5G revolution, argues that the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda and the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic are both at risk without a faster 5G rollout – to the tune of £41 billion.

The CPS says that the delivery of 5G infrastructure is stalling, with the Electronic Communications Code clearly not working as intended. Pressure on the rollout will only increase with the phasing out of Huawei from 5G infrastructure by 2027.

The report highlights that if delays continue at their current rate, over 11 million households and businesses could be missing out on vital digital connectivity by 2027. However, using analysis by the independent consultancy Policy Points, the report estimates that if 5G coverage reaches a quarter more of the population than the government’s current target of 51 per cent, it will produce GDP gains of £41.7 billion by 2027.

Report authors Alex Jackman and Nick King are calling for urgent reforms to the Electronic Communications Code and national planning rules to speed up the rollout of 5G, unlock its potential and stimulate growth as the country recovers from the economic impact of coronavirus. It calls for sustained public sector leadership to deliver this, recognising that supporting digital infrastructure is one of the key things the government can do that costs little, boosts growth and helps ‘level up’ the UK.

Jackman, a former digital adviser to the government, said: “Digital networks and the services they support have underpinned our resilience to Covid-19 and they will drive our recovery. By expanding them, we deliver not only immediate benefits but also the essential foundation stone for 5G. This is no time for the government to be passive on the deployment environment - the difference between the UK as a 5G pioneer and ceding leadership to others is as much as £173 billion. Productivity gains to business, equality gains for regions and economic gains for the country are only as achievable as the networks we can access.”