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The future of UK connectivity: building a better broadband ecosystem

The future of UK connectivity: building a better broadband ecosystem

CBNL was recently joined by leading experts in the field of 5G for a roundtable chaired by Emeka Obiodu (Strategy Director at the GSMA) to explore the status and future of UK enterprise broadband. 

With me on the panel were: Jonathan Dann (Managing Director of Telecom Research at RBC Capital Markets), Mischa Dohler (Professor of Wireless Communications at King’s College London) and Nick Lane (Chief Analyst at Mobilesquared).

Meeting in London, we discussed today’s connectivity landscape, the evolution of operator business models, and the role of new technology in the evolving pre-5G ecosystem. 

Supplementing the panel was the announcement of the ‘UK Enterprise Broadband Index.’ 

The survey, commissioned by CBNL, revealed that all UK businesses have experienced some issues with poor broadband services in the last two years. 

The most significant of these pertain to slow, or slower-than-advertised, broadband speeds, and substantial periods of network downtime. 

However, more than half of these businesses have not acted on these problems, instead choosing to remain with the same broadband provider.

With 89% of companies stating they would consider moving to wireless broadband, the research highlights the changing market perceptions towards this technology. 

In all likelihood, this is driven by the universal reliance of people upon mobile broadband, and their generally good experiences with it.

This striking statistic, and others within the index, provided a framework for a discussion of the current challenges facing the UK enterprise broadband market. 

The very high acceptance of wireless technology highlights the potential for disruptive wireless service providers to reconcile the digital divide and shape the future of connectivity.

The market status of UK enterprise broadband

The burgeoning demand for increased connectivity in the UK and the simultaneous acceptance of poor connectivity was a paradox my co-panelists unanimously acknowledged, and most had experienced directly.

This anecdotal evidence is supported by CBNL’s survey, which indicated that whilst 83% of businesses surveyed said that their connectivity requirements were being met by their broadband provider, 47% admit they are not receiving the broadband speeds advertised, 35% have been negatively impacted by slow broadband speeds, and 34% have experienced significant periods of downtime. 

With penetration of fixed wireless in the UK below many comparable regions of the globe, it’s plausible that a lack of exposure to alternative broadband solutions is contributing to the UK market’s acceptance of poor connectivity. 

To facilitate economic growth, the UK should seek to augment the range of technologies available to consumers with an emphasis on scalable solutions which can effectively meet growing demand.

The evolution of operator business models

Quickly moving from problem to opportunity, we proceeded to discuss the market opportunities for disruptive carriers seeking to leverage alternative solutions, such as fixed wireless.

Despite businesses looking for faster and more reliable broadband, when asked why they were opting to remain with their current provider, 32% of survey participants said they wanted to avoid disruption. 

Reflecting on this, Nick Lane commented: 

“The rapid deployment of fixed wireless solutions will be fundamental to improving the connectivity ecosystem, and as such needs to be a key focus for investment.”

“Operators leveraging these wireless solutions for enterprise can also benefit from their efficiency to build a more attractive business case to meet consumer demand, which at times is outpacing the capabilities of some of today’s legacy broadband services.”

Significant advances in millimetre wave have also meant that modern high-capacity wireless technologies have a clear path to quickly scale networks to multi-gigabit speeds, a capability that appears increasingly attractive for under-served UK businesses.

With such a clear and attractive business case, fixed wireless is presenting operators with a lucrative prospect for investment and establishing itself as a vital part of a diversified connectivity ecosystem.

New technology and the future of UK connectivity

Looking to the future, it is clear that recent advances in wireless sit alongside a significant market opportunity for operators.

Although fixed wireless is not as prevalent in the UK as fixed line, there was no dispute amongst us that the market’s perceptions of new technology is growing warmer. 

Underpinning this, the CBNL Enterprise Broadband Index revealed that 89% of businesses would consider moving to wireless services if the speed and reliability was comparable to, or greater than, their existing broadband.

Ofcom’s recent call for inputs to inform their programme of work to make millimeter wave spectrum bands available for 5G is also a significant indication of the value of high-capacity wireless in the UK market.

Increasing availability of millimetre wave, such as the 26GHz band, will be vital to unlock investment in enterprise broadband, allowing operators to benefit from the full potential of high band spectrum and catalyse the regeneration of a more diverse marketplace.

With the potential of these new technologies uncapped, panellist opinion was unified in its agreement that wireless innovation can bridge the gaps in the UK broadband market and pave the way for the next generation of connectivity.

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