Three calls on UK to back Fixed Wireless Access

26 July 2021 | Melanie Mingas

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Three UK has called on the UK government to explore the "credible alternative" of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to deliver gigabit connectivity in rural areas.

Along with CCS Insight, Three UK has today published joint research stating that those in rural areas could be connected to gigabit broadband "faster and for half the cost of fixed line technology" if the government backs FWA.

Compared to full fibre, the two said FWA would provide "a comparable level of connectivity" for 5G broadband.

David Hennessy, CTO of Three UK and Ireland said: “Gigabit speed internet is critical for the UK’s long-term prosperity. However, the government is too focused on investing in one type of technology – fixed line.

“Fixed line, or fibre, is significantly more difficult to roll out than FWA, which only needs a mobile signal to operate. It’s time for a greater consideration of a wider pool of technology, particularly FWA, to help those in rural areas have access to faster internet and ultimately help reduce the digital divide.”

Calling for policy reform, they said that in its current form, the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) "hinders, rather than enables, a quicker rollout of 5G due to a lack of clarity surrounding our ability to exercise our rights under the Code".

Their research said that currently, only 20% of rural areas are able to access ultrafast Wifi, leaving four in five people to wait on fibre. "Significant infrastructure changes" are needed before 2025 to meet the current target of 85% of UK premises having gigabit-broadband. According to figures shared by BT in 2019, this would cost around £4,000 per location in harder to reach areas, i.e. the last 10%. 

Three said a 60% reduction in site rentals over 10 years through ECC reform would fund the expansion of the Three 5G network by 20%. Three has committed to 2,500 new 5G sites across the UK "in the coming years".

Kester Mann, analyst, CCS Insight, said: “Although current broadband networks are sufficient for many of today’s needs, future demand for more data-intensive services will soon start to push their limits. 

"The Government’s ambition to reach at least 85% of UK premises with gigabit-capable broadband by 2025 is an ambitious target. It will necessitate urgent policy reform to remove barriers to network deployment, an acceleration in build-out ambition from UK providers and an open approach to new connectivity solutions through a mix of technologies. 5G fixed wireless access can form a significant part of this.”