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O2 boss: Let's go mobile as a quick fix for Britain's broadband woes

Oliver Gill
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A mobile phone carrying the logo of Span
Mark Evans was previously O2's finance chief before taking over as chief executive in July 2016

The rollout of 5G mobile networks in the UK can be delivered more quickly than fibre broadband and provide a boost of billions of pounds to Britain’s economy, according to a report released today.

5G, or the fifth generation mobile network, is scheduled to go live in the UK in 2020. It is expected to deliver faster internet speeds and provide networks with the ability to cope more users at the same time.

And according to analysis prepared by mobile phone operator O2, the step-up in technology associated with 5G will deliver economic benefits to the UK twice as fast as developing fixed line broadband to a similar standard.

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Furthermore, the research concludes the benefits of 5G will outstrip those of fixed line broadband by 2026, contributing £7bn a year, six years after rollout.

“Our ability to invest and transform mobile infrastructure is almost unparalleled. If I compare and contrast that to fixed... then clearly mobile is so much quicker to deploy and has a direct correlation to economic growth,” O2 chief executive Mark Evans told City A.M.

Competition

The fierce competition that prevails in the UK mobile phone sector is a key driver behind the growth of mobile infrastructure according to O2.

While fixed line broadband remains the “backbone” of telecoms development, Evans said the fact there is only one major player in the sector – BT through its subsidiary Openreach – is testament to why the development of technologies like fibre broadband takes more time than mobile networks. He added:

Britain does need greater fibre connectivity. And that is what I’d love BT to focus on.

Evans also spoke of his concern about BT’s dominance in the mobile sector through subsidiary EE, which it bought from Deutsche Telekom in 2015 for £12.5bn.

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EE holds the largest proportion of capacity – or spectrum – on the UK’s mobile network. The O2 boss said that with 45 per cent of capacity, EE holds the largest share of any country in the world with four major players. He is urging regulators to cap the amount it can take on in the future.

He said:

Let’s not let BT dominate the mobile phone market, because what we’ll then see is a complete slowdown of innovation and investment in that sector as well.

BT were approached by City A.M. but declined to comment on the report and statements by O2.

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