A report reckons there needs to be another £23-25 billion of investment on the table if 5G wonder-services like autonomous vehicles and telemedicine are ever to see the light of day in Blighty.

The Digital Connectivity Forum penned the report, called The Investment Gap to Full 5G Rollout, and they apparently advise the government on connectivity matters. In a nutshell, the report estimates that currently the telecoms industry has the ability to invest around £9 billion into network infrastructure by 2030. No small potatoes – but the catch is, it reckons in order to actually deliver ‘full 5G’ there will need to be another £23-25 billion poured into on top.

The group, which says ‘our goal is seamless digital connectivity, empowering positive societal change and economic growth across the UK’ is made up of ‘sponsor members’ including BBC, BT, CityFibre, Openreach, Ericsson, Vodafone, and a ton of other telecoms types.

The point of the report was to examine the capacity of network operators to invest in ‘new high-capacity, high-speed wireless 5G services.’ It asserts that without that greater level of investment it identifies, the UK won’t deliver ‘transformative new services dependent on 5G, such as autonomous vehicles, automated logistics and telemedicine.’ These of course were all use cases that have been waved around for years by the telecoms industry as the point of 5G.

“If you are using a newer smartphone or tablet in many of the UK’s bigger towns and cities, there’s a high chance that you’re already making use of high-speed, high-capacity 5G,“ said Alex Mather, Head of the Digital Connectivity Forum. “The sector is already re-investing these revenues in more locations and more capacity. But 5G isn’t just faster 4G – it has the ability to unlock innovative new uses and technologies, ranging from autonomous vehicles to advanced remote medical services. These technologies have the potential not only to increase the productivity of the nation and boost UK competitiveness, but also to improve the quality of services that the Government provides.

“Our research finds that there is a real risk of these revolutionary benefits not being realised. To make a reality of the Government’s levelling up agenda, to boost productivity, growth and competitiveness requires action. We therefore encourage the Government and industry to work together to ensure that intensive and timely investment is delivered.”

It’s all a bit of a gear shift from the grandstanding claims many of the group’s members have been making about 5G and all the wonderful things it will bring as soon as it arrives, which it has now. The inference being, yes 5G is here, but unless a boatload more money is put behind it won’t power wonder-tech like autonomous driving and remote surgery, as we were promised. Which isn’t necessarily untrue, but if that’s the case what was the point, and who is supposed to pony up for all this extra wedge?

Operators? The report seems in part to be a description of the limitations operators have in generating the required sums, plus they are already doing their best to offload some of the costs of current infrastructure to big tech. Government? They have a fair amount to fork out for right now as it is with a cost of living crisis off the back of a pandemic in which it underwrote half the country’s wages. Telco-curious investment firms? Maybe, if there’s still appetite for blowing that sort of cash after the current wave of huge fibre investment.

Perhaps we’ll just have to have a whip round, or else risk never seeing a man being remotely shaved  on a mountain by a 5G powered groom-a-tron.

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