The government should ignore the 5G hype and invest its £700m funding earmarked for the technology on ubiquitous 4G technology instead, a top telecoms expert has urged.
Professor William Webb, former director of the regulator Ofcom, has warned that there is no clear rationale for 5G's one-hundred-times-faster speeds, and one-thousand-times-faster capacity.
"We will need ten times current speeds in the future, but most of that will be delivered in the 4G era," he said.
The £700m funding was announced in the Autumn Statement. Chancellor Phillip Hammond said he wants Britain to become a "world leader in 5G".
But Webb said there is a strong case for the government investing the lion's share of that cash on ubiquitous 10Mbps 4G, with a small portion going towards 5G university research.
A report on 5G by the National Infrastructure Committee recently found that 4G coverage in the UK is worse than that of Albania. It called on the government to address the 4G "digital deserts" on roads, railways, and city centre not-spots.
Webb welcomed the findings of the report, which was written in response to the Autumn Statement. "Essentially it said there is not going to be anything sensible on 5G until 2025."
Most of the 5G investment costs will fall on the mobile operators, which he estimates will have to spend £3bn each, something they have little appetite for while their revenues are in decline.
But he said no one wants to stick their heads above the parapet and say the technology is unnecessary, as the government might take that as a signal they are not interested in the country's future and prevent them from bidding for future spectrum.
Meanwhile, there is a strong incentive for infrastructure providers such as Ericsson to talk up the technology, he said.
"There is a danger government could spend all the money on 5G, as a lot aren't mobile experts." Consequently many could be relying on advice from the industry hype machine.
Williams acknowledges there are very few dissenting voices out there. "Mine was a lone voice, so that obviously made me think deeply about whether I was plain wrong."
But he said that after talking to a lot of people in the industry, he discovered others are equally unimpressed by the benefits of the technology, prompting him to write his book, The 5G Myth: And why consistent connectivity is a better future.
The government is expected to flesh out its 5G funding plans this year. ®