April 9, 2021

Spotlight on the UK

Spectrum auctions are part and parcel of new network generation rollouts, but they also provide insight into the mood of a particular region and how its landscape will develop over the coming years. The recent UK auction raised £1.36bn, only slightly above the £1.1bn reserve and a far cry from the £2.2bn some analysts had been predicting. So, what does this tell us about the state of the UK telecoms market? We caught up with Andrew Paulley, UK Managing Director at RFS to get his take on 5G and a range of other industry issues.

Andrew Paulley, UK Managing Director

What do you make of the recent spectrum auction and the 5G market as a whole in the UK?

We do need to remember the most recent auction was merely a ‘top-up’ of additional frequencies above the initial, significant investment, industry had already made. It pointed to a measured and cautious approach to 5G. Operators acknowledged it is an essential step, but we didn’t see a frenzied landgrab, indicating that evolution of 5G in the UK will be a steady process. It makes sense; operators are still recouping investments made into 4G infrastructure, so it is vital that 5G infrastructure outlay is capable of generating ROI. The considered approach however doesn’t mean the UK is keen to lag behind the rest of the world. There’s still investment happening but MNOs are under more pressure than ever before to ensure it is the right investment that is cost effective without compromising on performance.

Can you tell us more about 5G specific challenges and how they can be overcome?

From an RF perspective, the frequencies required to deliver the necessary capacity for 5G have restricted reach and, at higher operating frequency bands, also suffer from challenges surrounding signal penetration in buildings. The capacity requirements for 5G are expected to grow exponentially, so delivering that bandwidth is again a significant challenge facing the industry. Consumers and business applications alike are data hungry and as research from Strategy Analytics into 5G usage in South Korea show the more data that is offered, the more that will be consumed.  

The combination of the physical limitations of 5G and the anticipated uplift in data demand mean that much like the rest of the world, the traditional base station model alone will not deliver what MNOs and their customers need. We expect to see much greater use of small cells and smart pole deployments to deliver the required capacity. There is then the further challenge of ensuring that operators, of all size and description, do not miss out on the potential revenue streams 5G holds due to in-building challenges. To ensure comprehensive coverage, in-building connectivity solutions and the best way to manage and deploy those will be an absolutely pivotal part of ‘bandwidth provider’ strategies this year. 

How will operators tackle those in-building challenges? What part does DAS have to play and how does DRS differ?

It is widely cited that 80% of all mobile data traffic originates in-building, yet modern buildings are designed not typically designed with this in mind. As in-building’s incompatibility with mobile coverage presents an even greater challenge for 5G, there will be a big focus on the best way to overcome in-building communication hurdles, in order for operators and consumers alike to reap the benefits of 5G. This would traditionally have been the remit of DAS (distributed antenna systems), but we expect to see the market move more towards a DRS (distributed radio systems) model for 5G. ABI Research explained this shift in a recent report with Johanna Alvarado, senior analyst explaining that DRS will overtake DAS architecture “flexible solutions with advanced features and capabilities” and a “simplified and future-proofed architecture”. At RFS we have been preparing for this shift by tailoring a number of our cost-effective solutions, particularly our HYBRIFLEX cable, to ensure we can support the shift in infrastructure that is necessary to support 5G. For where power is readily available, RFS has launched a plug and play fiber optic cabling system which has been optimized specifically for RoF (Radio over fiber) transmission.

What does the year ahead hold for RFS in the UK?

As with everyone in the mobile industry, 2021 will have a big emphasis on 5G. We will be focusing on both consultancy and implementation, to help all stakeholders, from MNOs and neutral hosts, to buildings and facilities managers, make the most of next generation connectivity. In order to deliver a future proof, high reliability, wireless communication network, RFS has launched the AWS (Assured Wireless Solution) program in collaboration with a range of consultants, network architects, integrators and installers. Alongside this, much of RFS’s work in the UK focuses on providing connectivity infrastructure for big public projects and there are a number of schemes that, having been put on hold due to Covid pandemic reasons, are set to keep us busy this year and beyond. The UK is a really interesting market for telecoms. It has a lighter regulatory hand than some other regions which gives players in the market a chance to be at the forefront of industry developments and we hope to help our clients reach and stay in that position through innovative approaches to infrastructure. 

If you’re interested to hear more about RFS’s work in the UK and how it is helping with the big move to 5G, get in touch with Andrew Paulley, UK Managing Director.