National Infrastructure Commission says country is only 54th in global rankings, while chair says 5G offers possibility of fresh start
Britain’s 4G record has been savaged by Government advisers, branding it worse than connectivity in Romania, Albania, Panama and Peru.
Mobile services are blighted by too many "digital deserts" and "not spots" where users cannot get 4G signals, the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has said in its Connected Future report.
The problems can be seen even within major city centres – leaving the UK 54th in global rankings for 4G, with typical users able to access the service only 53% of the time.
Some 20% of urban homes and 80% of rural premises are currently in not-spot areas and only 8% of A and B roads have full connectivity. Even on the motorways, users fail to get either 3G or 4G almost 25% of the time, the report finds.
In stark contrast, the NIC says that countries including the USA and Japan already have data volumes four to five higher than the UK.
Lord Adonis (pictured), the NIC’s chair, said: "Our 4G network is worse than Romania and Albania, Panama and Peru. Our roads and railways can feel like digital deserts and even our city centres are plagued by not-spots where connectivity is impossible.
“That isn't just frustrating, it is increasingly holding British business back as more and more of our economy requires a connected workforce.”
In March, the NIC was asked to advise ministers on how the UK can become a "world leader" in the deployment of 5G. While the new mobile network is still under development, it potentially offers ultra-fast, ultra-reliable, ultra-high capacity seamless connectivity to support future technologies like augmented reality, connected vehicles and the internet of things.
Lord Adonis added: “5G offers us a chance to start again and get ahead. If Government acts now, we can ensure our major transport networks and urban centres are 5G ready in time to give British industry every chance to lead the world in exploiting its applications.
"But none of this will matter unless we bring our mobile network up to speed. The existing system does not provide the level of coverage we will need in our connected future.”
He added that a new universal service obligation would be needed to ensure “the mobile essentials - like text, talk and data - are available to us wherever we need them”.
The leader of the cross-party British Infrastructure Group of MPs (BIG), Conservative MP Grant Shapps, said the report “confirms what BIG has been saying for a long time”.
He called for a Cabinet minister to be given “exclusive responsibility to deliver on the promise of 5G and drive progress throughout the UK”.
Shapps said: “Over the years, ministers have been too easily taken in by glib promises provided by the telecoms providers and the ineffective and weak response of the regulator Ofcom.
"Britain cannot afford repeat of that outcome with 5G and today we call on the prime minister to personally ensure that the infrastructure report recommendations are enacted in detail.”
Image from GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0