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United Kingdom - Telecoms, Mobile and Broadband - Statistics and Analyses

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Last updated: 22 Dec 2020 Update History

Report Pages: 295

UK preps for 2021 5G spectrum auctions

The UK’s telecom market remains one of the largest in Europe, characterised by fierce competition which has resulted in reduced pricing for end-users. Following some market consolidation in the mobile segment there are four key players and a number of MVNOs. Mobile broadband in coming years will place some additional pressure on the fixed-line broadband subscriber base as customers are tempted to migrate to 5G-enabled services. The fixed-line broadband sector has seen the steady decline in DSL and the ongoing efforts among a good number of operators to expand the reach of fibre networks. This is being supported by government efforts to encourage the right economic environment facilitating the ambition to have a fully-fibred UK.

The fixed-line voice segment is being similarly repositioned, with PSTN services making way for IP-delivered content. BT’s independent wholesale unit Openreach planned to complete the switch to fibre by 2025, and since September 2020 the unit has stopped offering copper-based products to fibre-enabled premises.

The UK’s broadband sector is fast migrating from copper to fibre. By September 2020 about 7.9 million premises were able to access a gigabit broadband service from full fibre or Virgin Media’s DOCSIS3.1 network. The vast majority of premises could access superfast broadband (of at least 30Mb/s).

The government’s own gigabit ambitions were scaled back in November 2020. Under its 2025 Gigabit program, a gigabit service was to be made available nationally, but this this was changed to 85% coverage.

The mobile market is also one of the largest in Europe, both in terms of revenue and in the number of subscribers. The market has room for a growing number of low-cost MVNOs providing effective price and service competition for subscribers. The country has developed one of the strongest 5G segments, with all MNOs increasing their footprints after having launched services progressively since 2019.

Auctions for spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands made more bandwidth available for mobile broadband services, supported by regulatory moves which allowed the refarming of 2G spectrum. Spectrum in the 700MHz and 3.5GHz bands will be auctioned in early 2021, having been being allocated for 5G use.

This report analyses the key aspects of the UK’s telecom market, presenting statistics on the fixed network services sector and an overview of the key regulatory issues including the status of interconnection, local loop unbundling, and carrier preselection. The report reviews the major fixed network telcos and examines the status of fixed-line voice services following the deregulation of the retail call market sector. The report also assesses the fixed and fixed-wireless broadband markets, covering technologies and including statistics and an update on recent commercial initiatives. In addition, the report surveys the UK’s mobile voice and data markets, providing an overview of mobile statistics, regulatory issues and technologies. It also profiles the major operators and MVNOs and looks ahead to mobile market developments in coming years.

BuddeComm notes that the outbreak of the Coronavirus is having a significant impact on production and supply chains globally. During the coming year the telecoms sector to various degrees is likely to experience a downturn in mobile device production, while it may also be difficult for network operators to manage workflows when maintaining and upgrading existing infrastructure. Overall progress towards 5G may be postponed or slowed down in some countries.

On the consumer side, spending on telecoms services and devices is under pressure from the financial effect of large-scale job losses and the consequent restriction on disposable incomes. However, the crucial nature of telecom services, both for general communication as well as a tool for home-working, will offset such pressures. In many markets the net effect should be a steady though reduced increased in subscriber growth.

Although it is challenging to predict and interpret the long-term impacts of the crisis as it develops, these have been acknowledged in the industry forecasts contained in this report.

The report also covers the responses of the telecom operators as well as government agencies and regulators as they react to the crisis to ensure that citizens can continue to make optimum use of telecom services. This can be reflected in subsidy schemes and the promotion of tele-health and tele-education, among other solutions.

Key developments:

  • Government bans Huawei equipment in 5G networks from September 2021;
  • Vodafone to switch off its 3G network by 2022;
  • Liberty Global and O2 announce merger;
  • Openreach to stop selling copper products to FttP-enabled premises by September 2021;
  • Ofcom clears 700MHz spectrum for January 2021 auction;
  • Government to invest £1 billion of fibre infrastructure and 5G technologies, scales back gigabit broadband coverage to 85% by 2025;
  • Report update includes the regular's market updates to June 2020, telcos' financial and operating data to Q3 2020, Telecom Maturity Index charts and analyses, assessment of the global impact of Covid-19 on the telecoms sector, recent market developments.

Companies mentioned in this report:

Virgin Media, BT, KCom, Orange, Cable & Wireless, COLT Telecom, Dixons Carphone Group, Sky, O2, H3, Vodafone, Everything Everywhere (BT/EE, incorporating the former T-Mobile UK and Orange UK), Tesco Mobile

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