Simon Frumkin, CEO of connectivity infrastructure-as-a-service provider Freshwave says the neutral host approach can supercharge UK connectivity.
From letters to telegrams to cat GIFs, the ways we communicate never stand still and have had a profound impact on society and the economy. These advances help spread knowledge, become the catalyst for entirely new industries and allow you to seek solace from likeminded friends in your WhatsApp group when your football team has a disastrous match.
With Ofcom data showing we spend an average of two hours every day online on a smartphone, it’s no wonder we feel our mobiles are an extension of ourselves. In fact, there’s even a phobia, “nomophobia” (no-mobile-phone phobia), to denote the anxiousness of being without a mobile or network!
Over the past 20 years, mobile technology has accounted for 10% of per capita income growth worldwide. And there’s simply no escaping it: mobile connectivity is an essential part of our lives. Whether you’re a busy professional making a call from your workplace (because how many people use landlines anymore?) or a fan trying to livestream your favourite song at a gig.
There are undeniable benefits to the UK economy to everyone being better connected. It will lead to greater, more sustainable, growth, while emerging industries, such as those using artificial intelligence, are poised to expand into whole new areas.
The Internet of Things could have a transformative effect in industrial settings, for example, where sensors in machinery can exchange data over mobile networks to predict when maintenance is required. This industry is expected to grow by 10% each year for the next five years. Mobile payments are predicted to grow by over 20% each year over the same period. And augmented reality, with applications like virtual try-ons for clothing and furniture, should grow by 50% each year until 2030. It takes the expression “home shopping network” to a whole new level!
All of these need good mobile connectivity to become a greater part of our lives.
It’s worth remembering how much the adoption of 4G has already achieved. It’s brought us download speeds up to 20 times faster than 3G, making a world of regular video streaming possible. 5G is up to 10 times faster than 4G, and promises to add £43bn to UK GDP by 2030, with huge gains accruing to the healthcare and consumer sectors. Barclays predicts that 5G could add up to £15.7bn in annual business revenue by 2025.
In order to fully reap these benefits, we need good digital connectivity infrastructure. And a central plank in all of this is the neutral host approach.
Mobile infrastructure was traditionally built and operated individually by the mobile network operators (MNOs). This meant that while an indoor or outdoor area could see additional connectivity, only those on the right network could enjoy the benefits. A neutral host solves this challenge by helping all the MNOs connect through the same infrastructure.
The momentum for the neutral host approach has been building for some time now and it’s suitable for both indoor and outdoor connectivity challenges. For example, we’ve connected 22 Bishopsgate, the tallest building in the City of London, via a neutral host and a unique pay-as-you occupy model contracted with the landlord. And outdoors we’re running a 4G and 5G pilot in the City of London using outdoor small cells, which at full roll out will deliver connectivity at street level for hundreds of thousands of people per day.
Neutral hosts make good sense in many other ways, too. Sharing fibre and other infrastructure reduces the amount of equipment used which provides both cost and environmental benefits. And for outdoor projects, installing something once rather than four times is clearly preferable for street works and the community. Similarly, MNOs are facing many competing demands for their CapEx investment and neutral hosts are great partners for enhancing mobile connectivity using an OpEx approach.
It’s not only the economy that will directly benefit from the increased connectivity that neutral hosts will provide. Increased access has the potential to bridge the “digital divide”. Many of our most vulnerable young people can only access the internet via mobile, meaning that, without good connectivity, they cannot develop the digital knowledge and skills in demand today. Local authorities understand this, which is why so many are keen to support their residents in getting better connected.
The government has made clear commitments to improving connectivity around the UK, whether that’s through Project Gigabit or the work aimed at levelling up different areas of the UK. Neutral hosts can make a significant contribution to achieving these commitments and will ensure that our infrastructure can respond to increased data demands and develop the UK into a tech superpower, while keeping digital inclusion at the fore.
Telecommunications are more than just talk. We’re moving into a new era, where connectivity is the catalyst for a stronger economy and a better society – and neutral hosts, with the right relationships and technical and commercial strength, are particularly well placed to help make this a reality.