Ten priorities for a digital minister

Chief executive of Real Wireless, Mark Keenan, outlines his top ten priorities for a future UK government digital champion or minister to implement to improve digital connectivity.

Just before Christmas, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) published Connected Future, a report looking at what the UK needs to do to become a ‘world leader in 5G deployment’.

Media reporting of the report focussed on the revelations that the UK’s 4G coverage is worse than that of Albania and Peru (a claim since questioned by Ofcom) and hailed 5G as the opportunity to put things right.

With Real Wireless having submitted a paper that contributed to the NIC’s final report, we’ve watched the coverage of this issue in the media with some interest. While we don’t share the nation’s obsession with next generation labels, we are interested in the recommendation that the government appoints a digital champion, or cabinet minister, to take responsibility for our digital future.

As demonstrated in the NIC report, connectivity is as important to consumers and business, as utilities like gas and electricity. And it’s our conviction that we can’t wait for 5G in 2020 to ‘put things right’, we need to get the basics right now.

As we continue to hope that a digital champion or cabinet minister in charge of digital is appointed, there are certain things that this individual should know.

So, cabinet minister for our digital future, here are the ten key priorities for you:

  • Exploit the capabilities of 4G and focus on truly universal wireless coverage at last (e.g. bring connectivity to not-spots and rail), predictable and consistent speeds more important than peak speeds, with more targeted government funding or carrots/sticks for MNOs.
  • Create the regulatory environment for key verticals to have access to optimized wireless networks, not one size fits all – e.g. incentivize MNOs to invest in network slicing.
  • Lower barriers to entry for new MVNO operators e.g. with flexible spectrum pricing and allocation, more shared/unlicensed spectrum.
  • Post-Brexit, create a net neutrality program which allows investors in networks to monetize their infrastructure effectively, such as high QoS services, while retaining open access to core services.
  • Create meaningful structures for dialog between spectrum owners and vertical industry players (e.g. transport) to break down the mistrust, and ensure advanced 4G and 5G serves more than one vertical.
  • Provide support and funding for integrated smart city initiatives – reduce rates and incentivise investment by making access to publically owned assets easier.
  • Invest in radio skills and in testbeds for all kinds of wireless, not just 5G.
  • Ensure that 5G consultation is held with all sectors, and prioritize resources according to areas of social and economic impact – forget about 5G ‘leadership’
  • Ensure that all new or upgraded buildings and infrastructure such as road and rail network are obliged to consider how wireless communications will be deployed in the environment they are creating.
  • Encourage and incentivise private investors to make greater use of shared infrastructure, such as structures, transmission & power to deliver wireless services.

Mark Keenan, CEng MIStructE MIET is the chief executive officer at Real Wireless.