Answering the ‘Wake Up’ calls

By | February 16, 2017

Yesterday’s report from Marseille welcomed Ofcom’s appearance on stage at the FTTH Council Europe’s annual conference.   But it was not the only contribution that would have surprised many delegates.

Very few of our continental friends would have already clocked the seismic shifts in UK broadband policy. Even fewer would have expected that the UK government would be in position to offer some quite remarkable services that will assist network planners throughout the world. After years of non-participation, “What would they know” might be the common retort.

To fully understand the apparent policy flips that now prioritise ‘full fibre’, the delegates need look no further than the late 2016 report from the UK’s National Infrastructure Commission.

“ . . . . the UK lacks the level of coverage necessary to offer basic mobile services ubiquitously. In rural areas 3% of the population do not have any coverage outside their homes (complete not-spots) and 25% do not have coverage offered by all the main mobile networks (partial not-spots). Coverage on our road networks is poor even for voice coverage (2G), 17% of A and B roads are in complete not-spots and an additional 42% have only partial coverage.”

As a major ‘Wake Up’ call this would be ammunition to hound mobile operators but, in the context of 5G rising over the horizon, it signaled a severe warning on the lack of fibre to serve the millions of small cells that are implied by development of services operating at frequencies at or beyond 26Ghz.

Given this realisation, a continental response would again dismissively repeat the refrain, ‘What do they know?’ And the answer, to much surprise, came from an unexpected quarter – the world’s pre-eminent mapping organisation, the UK’s Ordnance Survey.

Access network planning is in large part a mapping exercise and the UK finds itself not only in urgent need of full fibre (and a ‘drains up’ examination of passive assets) but also, remarkably, totally on top of the tools and talent now required for small cell 5G optimization – and, as it happens, tools that are required even in countries that are already further down the fibre lines.

So the UK Ordnance Survey’s contribution to this annual fibre-fest – hitherto predominantly a continental conference – was both a surprise and a welcome breath of fresh air.

Taken on the same day as Ofcom’s first ever contribution to the FTTH conference, the presentation from Ordnance Survey underlined the sea change underway on UK infrastructure policy.

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UPDATE 19th April 2017: David Happy profiled by TelecomTV discussing Ordnance Survey mapping project in Bournemouth as part of future 5G deployment studies.