The UK risks missing the benefits of the fifth-generation wireless networks because of policies that could lead to an expensive and inefficient roll out, said telecommunications giant Ericsson.
“Decisive action is needed, uncertainty is not good for business and it could delay the roll out of the UK’s 5G network, putting the country’s long-term competitiveness at risk,” said Arun Bansal, head of the wireless equipment supplier’s European and Latin American operations.
“The UK was late in adopting 4G and largely missed the economic opportunity that came with it. There is a real possibility of history repeating itself.”
5G’s broadband speeds could end up a hundred times faster than today’s, which means it could underpin new technologies and create fortunes from connected factories, cities and vehicles.
Mr Bansal pointed to several concerns with the UK policy.
He said there was a risk the airwaves owned by different carriers could end up fragmented and inefficient and stressed the need for international cooperation so the same airwaves are used in every country.
Planning permission rules risk making engineers’ work slow and expensive, he said, adding that the government could better support the idea of 5G as a potential replacement for landline broadband.
Britain’s government pushed back, saying its spectrum allocation process allows operators to trade spectrum so each gets what they need and reforms have made network deployment cheaper and easier.
The country’s campaign to roll out gigabit-capable broadband nationwide “is technology neutral, and we would be happy to meet with the supplier to discuss the role of 5G", the department for digital, culture, media and sport said in an emailed statement.
Ericsson has been positioning itself to supply British carriers with billions of pounds’ worth of 5G equipment. With the UK officials now looking to curtail the role of its Chinese rival Huawei amid growing tensions with Beijing, that potential opportunity has grown - as long as Ericsson can show it’s able to match Huawei’s technological edge.
Mr Bansal didn’t mention Huawei by name. However, he denied claims that Ericsson was technologically behind any other player and said it’s ready for whatever approach Britain chooses.
“We ship enough 5G-ready radios to cover the greater London area every single day,” he said.