5G Networks – The Current State of Deployment and Development

5G networks have been hailed as the next big revolution in the telecommunications industry, promising lightning-fast speeds, low latency, and offering widespread connectivity. However, the deployment of 5G networks has been slower than anticipated due to various challenges, including technical issues, regulatory hurdles, and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite these challenges, the development of 5G networks is still ongoing, and the technology is gradually being rolled out. This article will provide an overview of the current state of 5G network deployment and development, including the progress made so far, the challenges encountered, and the potential benefits of this revolutionary technology. 

The Connected Nations Report – A Summary

In December 2022, Ofcom, the UK’s telecoms regulator, provided an update on the progress of mobile services across the country, with a focus on 5G rollout plans, mobile coverage both inside and outside premises, mobile network performance, investment in and take-up of mobile services, and the availability and use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices and services. 

According to Ofcom’s report, the availability of 5G services is growing rapidly, with at least one Mobile Network Operator (MNO) covering around 60% of the population in early 2023.   

The report also found that 4G continues to carry most of the mobile data traffic, accounting for 87% of total data traffic. At least one MNO’s 4G coverage has reached 92% of the UK landmass.

Furthermore, mobile traffic continues to grow, albeit at a slower rate this year, with traffic levels increasing by around 27% year on year, compared to a 37% rise between 2020 and 2021. Ofcom also noted that data traffic carried over 5G has increased more rapidly, rising from 3% of all traffic in 2021 to over 9% in 2022, generated from a device pool which now includes around 20% of 5G-capable handsets. 

Ofcom also noted continued growth in private networks offered by MNOs and other players, as well as a 20% growth in MNOs’ IoT traffic. 

The Four Nations

Differences in deployment strategies are reflected in different coverage levels across the UK nations, with coverage outside of premises ranging from: 
Location Percentage (%)
England 42-61
Scotland 29-51
Wales 10-46
Northern Ireland at the High
Confidence level

The Lay of the Land

The UK Government is taking steps to reduce the administrative burden for operators seeking access to private land for the roll-out of gigabit-capable and 5G networks.  

The new Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act (PSTI) will address security concerns while also including measures to support the deployment of telecommunications infrastructure.  

This will involve changes to the Electronic Communications Code to facilitate negotiations between site owners and telecom providers, renew expired agreements more easily, and enable quicker access to certain types of land in cases where landowners repeatedly fail to respond to access requests. The government plans to consult on changes to the Electronic Communications Code of Practice to support this work. 

Road and Rail

According to the Connected Nations 2022 report, 4G coverage inside vehicles on motorways and A roads range from 83-88% across individual mobile network operators (MNOs), falling to 73-79% for B roads.  

Outside vehicles, 4G coverage on motorways and A roads ranges from 94-98% across individual MNOs, and between 89-95% for B roads. In-vehicle mobile voice services on motorways and A roads range from 91-98% across individual MNO’s, and 80-94% for B roads. Voice call coverage outside vehicles on motorways and A roads remains stable, ranging from 98-99% across individual MNOs, with voice calls outside vehicles on B roads ranging from 94-98% across individual MNOs. 

In terms of rail connectivity, while predicted coverage may be present in the surrounding area, it often does not translate into a good experience on the ground due to the challenges of mobile signals reaching into railway cuttings and inside carriages themselves.  

Network Rail has been inviting companies to invest in upgrading its rail telecoms network in return for the right to commercialize spare capacity that might support improved services for consumers. In May 2022, it was reported that two groups – Neos Networks (bidding alongside Cellnex) and Virgin Media (bidding alongside Nokia and Jacobs) would be proceeding to bid in the auction. A significant development in the rail sector is Transport for London’s 20-year concession partnership with BAI Communications to enable mobile coverage on the Tube network, including within the tunnels, by the end of 2024. 

Let’s not 4-Get 4G!

Despite the increasing coverage of 5G, older technologies such as 4G, 2G, and 3G still provide the fundamental backbone of most consumers’ experience with voice and data services. The 4G services offered by each of the MNOs continue to be the most widely available and accessed. 

Public policy interventions, including the Shared Rural Network, are making progress in the UK. The SRN aims to achieve good quality coverage across 88% of the landmass by June 2024 and 90% by January 2027, to provide good 4G coverage across 95% of the UK landmass by the end of 2025.  

MNOs are committed to achieving the 88% target through their own investment and have deployed over 150 new sites towards these requirements, resulting in a small increase in the area where all MNOs now provide coverage. As a result, good mobile coverage from at least one MNO is now available across 92.2% of the UK.

The Future is Bright

At Onwave, we are at the cutting edge of developments in 5G networks and are a proven connectivity partner. Despite the challenges encountered in the deployment of 5G networks, the development of this revolutionary technology is still ongoing, and its potential benefits are vast.  

With the increasing coverage of 5G, older technologies such as 4G, 2G, and 3G still provide the fundamental backbone of most users’ experience with voice and data services. As a connectivity partner that is carrier and technology agnostic, we are committed to delivering the best possible bespoke service and solutions for our customers, helping you to stay connected and stay ahead in the ever-evolving telecommunications industry. 

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