Government plans to dip its toe in 5G tech with a £16m test hub as part of its "5G strategy" have been welcomed by one of the most vocal critics of the technology as a pragmatic move.
Along with the budget yesterday, the government released its 5G strategy (PDF) further detailing how it would splash the £740m previously earmarked for 5G technology.
William Webb, former director of the regulator Ofcom and current CEO of the Weightless Special Interest Group, had previously warned that the money would be better spent addressing 4G notspots.
An increasing number of experts are arguing that the current business case for 5G is being driven by vendors, rather than consumers or mobile operators – with the latter two being the ones who will ultimately have to foot the bill.
Webb said: "This is a mostly sensible strategy that recognises that 5G still has some way to go before it is clear what technologies, applications and business cases will be successful.
"While there may come a time in the future when we need '5G services', by far the biggest problem for mobile phone users is poor coverage, not just in rural areas but on trains, in cars, inside buildings and in urban not-spots."
The report said that given the complexity of future 5G systems, it is not yet clear how and where 5G networks will be deployed. It said deployments will be part of a "wider ecosystem of wireless connectivity, building on investment in 4G networks".
The report also said it agreed with previous recommendations by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) that there should be high quality coverage where people live, work and travel. That includes introducing 4G coverage on Blighty's rail networks.
The NIC found Blighty has worse 4G coverage than that of Albania, Panama and Peru.
Webb said: "Bringing together expertise and understanding of 5G within a unit in government and a national institution also makes sense to allow developing standards to be tracked and judgements made as and when new technology is ready for deployment.
"Hopefully, this will allow more reasoned debate about those aspects of the 5G vision that are most problematic. [The] key will be to ensure sensible pragmatism rather than these bodies seeing their role as evangelising."
However, he said the value of testbeds was still unclear. The document discusses testbeds widely and attributes many different tasks to them including evaluating technologies, applications, business case, new deployment methodologies and more, said Webb.
He said: "To me, the use of testbeds is less clear. The UK already has access to a number of testbeds, for example at Surrey University and in Bristol. Also, some manufacturers have various new technology deployed at their research facilities, for example BT at their Adastral Park site.
"However, it is difficult to deliver clear learnings and outcomes from testbeds. There’s little harm in continuing with them, especially if most of the funding comes from the private sector, and linking them together better may help but it will take significant management effort for them to deliver all that the government’s strategy hopes." ®