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Mobile News XPO: Rural areas will not be a priority for 5G

Jasper Hart
March 26, 2019

5% of UK landscape will “never be worth covering”

Early urban deployment of 5G will help free up resources for networks to be expanded in rural areas, but there is a lack of economic incentive for networks to do so, says Vodafone UK CTO Scott Petty.

Fielding a question about the need to deliver consistently strong coverage nationally, Petty asserted that it “didn’t make a lot of sense” to try and push for coverage in low-population areas.

“5G helps us massively. We spend a huge amount of money building capacity in dense urban areas to service the customers in those areas. We can do that much more efficiently using 5G,” he said.

“That frees up funding and investment to deploy mobile networks in rural areas. But let’s be honest: commercially, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. There aren’t many people there, they don’t pay for the services, and therefore it’s hard to build a case for that.” Vodafone is due to launch 5G across 19 urban sites in 2019.

O2 CTO Brendan O’Reilly added: “Politicians are really going for rural connectivity, and we want to serve our customers, but serving swathes of land where there isn’t anybody doesn’t make any economic sense.”

Some 91 per cent of the UK has a good 4G mobile signal from at least one operator, according to Ofcom figures from December 2018.

BT group chief technology and information officer Howard Watson said the networks were “pushing each other hard” to find a way to increase that percentage, but that five per cent of the UK landmass will “absolutely never be worth covering”.

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