Government's industrial strategy needs mobile innovation at its heart

By Mark Evans CEO Telefónica UK

Theresa May is right to champion the importance of digital communications in a post-
Brexit Britain and now must put mobile innovation at the forefront of her industrial strategy. This is because our economy and our way of life increasingly relies on accessing the best, fastest and latest technology on the move.

Eight in 10 of us own a smartphone, with the jump to mobile changing the way we do business and connect with friends and family. Mobile connectivity is already helping sole traders to large companies deliver better services for their customers, and drive productivity and innovation. It is already making our lives easier, from the way we bank and manage our money to the way we book and plan travel. It is already helping us better manage our health and fitness, buy the music and clothes we love, connect with friends and even record and watch the content we want to.

As the demand for faster and faster connectivity increases, it is vital we build the next generation of digital infrastructure. Mobile operators like O2 are willing to make the massive investment needed to keep Britain connected. However, we can’t do it alone. We need an industrial strategy that puts mobile at the heart of post-Brexit Britain, ensuring UK companies and consumers alike are the best connected in Western world. First and foremost, this means helping mobile operators roll out 5G, a technology that will support a global digital services market worth more than the UK economy by 2020.

British firms relying on 5G will be able build smart cars, smart cities, smart homes, while consumers will be able to download a full feature-length film in seconds. By putting mobile front and centre of the new economy, Britain would follow in the footsteps of South Korea, a country that has more fully embraced mobile innovation through better partnerships between Government and operators. Boston Consulting Group estimates that mobile technology now contributes 11% of South Korea’s GDP, with a value to the economy of $143 billion.

For Britain to follow on the same path, Theresa May must keep her eyes firmly fixed on mobile and work with companies like O2 to create the right conditions for investment. The first action the Prime Minister should take is to redress the imbalance of spectrum between mobile operators. In South Korea the distribution of spectrum – the invisible frequencies that operators use to transmit mobile data – is evenly distributed between companies, which encourages competition. Yet in Britain the market is heavily skewed, with BT sitting on 45% of usable spectrum, limiting the ability of companies like O2 to expand and grow our network. It’s criminal that some of this frequency is allowed to be warehoused when it could be used to improve connectivity and competitiveness.

The second action is developing a supportive planning regime that encourages the faster and more cost effective roll out of new mobile infrastructure. This is absolutely vital because in London alone, mobile operators will need to install hundreds of thousands of new transmitters to deliver 5G. In reality, this means improving planning laws, the Electronic Communications Code and opening up BT’s cable network to allow operators to invest in the digital infrastructure of tomorrow right now.

Finally, I’d like to see the Prime Minster help operators work more closely with infrastructure providers – like rail companies – to deliver better signal for their customers and users. Britain has led the way in the adoption of mobile technology and has incredible expertise in this field. By putting it front and centre of her industrial strategy, Theresa May can back a sector that will deliver for the economy and consumers for years to come.