November 2017 – Budget Reflections

The Chancellor’s budget last week has been much better received than many expected. Many of the announcements demonstrate a realisation of the need to invest in the UK’s infrastructure so that the country can develop and thrive in the future. The house-building sector should take heart that a series of initiatives will seek to reduce the difficulties in bringing affordable housing to market. The assistance being developed to assist SMEs in the sector is particularly welcome as a host of smaller and more agile companies should provide more competition and quicker results for localities that have small builders.

Of more long-term interest is the investment of “£170 million for innovation to transform productivity in the construction sector”. This is certainly welcome as the traditional large-scale builders do not appear to be very innovative . However, a new entrant to the sector may stir things up a bit. Legal & General has invested in its 550,000 sq ft Modular factory in Selby, Yorkshire. In July it unveiled its first prototype and expects to start producing modular housing in the first half of next year.

Nearer to home in the Tech and Telecoms sectors there is a growing awareness of the backwardness of the UK – the Digital Divide is just one aspect. There were investment announcements for Digital Communications – that breaks down to Full Fibre and 5G with what appear to be reasonable sums of money. However, compare this to South Korea, which already has excellent Broadband speeds because they have Full Fibre. In January they announced that they target a commercial 5G launch in 2020 with support of nearly £1bn investment.

Our government has, at last, woken up to the reality of the situation and the policy paper in March (Connectivity – building world-class digital infrastructure for the UK) shows clear intent and a methodology to achieve its aims. It is investigating if the publicly funded networks like Network Rail can “offer another potential route to increase fibre connectivity”. So the budget’s announcement of a £190m Challenge Fund to encourage Fibre to the Premises projects is encouraging as was this month’s announcement by Thames Water about opening up their sewers to SSE Enterprise Telecom’s fibre networks. As these projects multiply and gather pace, our national infrastructure will improve.

Ofcom reported in February that there would be one spectrum band available in 2020 for 5G nationally but an authoritative report – The cost, coverage and rollout implications of 5G infrastructure in Britain (see below for link) suggests that we shall have to wait several years for roll-out in the UK. It looks to a period from 2024 to 2027 when the build-out will be reaching 90% of the population.

So while the Budget sums supporting our 21st century infrastructure may seem small compared to the sums being put into HS2, there are plenty of developments taking place that can give us heart that we are at last on track. Let us hope they can deliver the detail as set out in a report in May for the Broadband Stakeholder Group that proposes a number of changes for making it easier and cheaper for telecoms operators to deploy ultrafast 5G Mobile and “full fibre” broadband networks.

The cost, coverage and rollout implications of 5G infrastructure in Britain is found at:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308596117302781