Why Scotland Needs a 5G Strategy
As a reserved issue, 5G policy and strategy was initiated by the UK Government's 5G strategy in March 2017 and updated in December 2017, alongside a competitive challenge fund - the 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme. In July 2018, the UK Government's ambitions were reaffirmed in its Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which set the goal of the UK being a world leader in 5G, making it a UK Government priority to promote investment and innovation with an aim for the majority of the population to have 5G by 2027.
However, the FTIR is focused on the deployment of full fibre connectivity and the Scottish Government believes that there is now a requirement to show leadership at a national level by creating a supportive policy framework to facilitate the development and deployment of 5G to meet the 2027 ambition.
The Scottish Government believes a 'do-nothing' approach will most likely lead to a repeat of previous UK-wide deployments of digital infrastructure (mobile and broadband) where more populous urban areas are the focus of investment and rural areas are at the end of the queue. This is exacerbated by the current uncertainty of commercial business models which would underpin widespread 5G deployment. This will place rural communities at a continuing disadvantage when online service delivery is essential to drive improvements, efficiency and gains in productivity; alongside the societal impacts of this inequality.
But without umbrella 5G deployment across all of Scotland, the country will not reap the potential economic gains that 5G can deliver. As telecommunications is legislated for and regulated at a UK level, while mobile network rollout is commercially led, we believe that Scotland cannot wait for action at a UK level any longer. To avoid repetition of the unsatisfactory deployments of the past, we are clear that more needs to be done at a Scottish level - with appropriate leadership - to ensure that 5G is delivered for all of Scotland.
Overcoming the Barriers to Realising the Benefits of 5G
The potential benefits identified in the Deloitte study will be delivered over a 15-year timescale. The study also points out that the benefits from digitalisation in some cases will be gradual and will require long-term commitments by policymakers and industry to address key challenges.
Firstly, the benefits will be reliant on the availability of adequate connectivity. Improving 4G coverage and performance, and achieving large-scale 5G deployments, will rely on key enablers including access to radio spectrum, the availability of underlying fibre infrastructure and the development of new commercial models for network deployment, and specific use cases.
Even with excellent connectivity, there is uncertainty about which use cases will have the most transformative impact. Further research and collaboration across government, industry and academia - building on current initiatives such as the 5G RuralFirst programme - will play an important role in establishing use case feasibility and the likely costs and demand involved.
Finally, an accelerated rate of digital transformation may only be achievable by improving awareness and understanding of 5G and complementary technologies - and ensuring citizens and business have the skills to capitalise on them. There remains a lack of awareness and understanding about the potential of 5G, while there are also concerns about the commercial costs for the future. Some organisations - including small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) and local government bodies - require assurances or risk falling behind the technological curve.
Here, the Scottish Government will play a pivotal role in helping Scotland capitalise on the 5G opportunities, so we can maximise the future economic, social and environmental benefits across Scotland.
The Importance of 5G Security and Resilience
The opportunities of 5G also come with potential risks and it is vital that these are managed effectively to ensure the reliability and integrity of Scotland's 5G networks.
The deployment of 5G is expected to increase security threats as a result of its broader, multi-level 'attack surface' which is significantly different and more open than 4G. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport's report on 5G architecture and security identifies four requirements that 5G networks must meet:
1. Cross-layer security. A unified framework is needed to coordinate different security methods for each security layer, such as applications or IoT.
2. End-to-end security. There should be a secure connection for the communication paths between the user and the core network. The distributed nature of 5G networks makes this challenging.
3. Cross-domain security is vital. 5G networks create a massive number of novel use cases with unique requirements. Since the vertical market will only grow in order to fulfil those novel use cases, the report calls for cooperation between those in the 5G system to build integrated security solutions which go across domains.
4. Secure-by-design. As the network changes and evolves, security must be built into the design during development.
The Scottish Government believes that building appropriate levels of security into 5G networks from the outset is fundamental. We will continue to work closely with the UK National Cyber Security Centre and other key partners to ensure that cyber threats to Scotland's economy and society, including those from hostile states, are identified and managed effectively.
Scotland's Cyber Resilience Strategy and Action Plans on Cyber Resilience set out work to develop an awareness and culture of cyber resilience across our public, private and third sectors. This includes a commitment to ensuring that cyber resilience is embedded in any centrally funded technology innovation activity and that security is designed in from the outset of key infrastructure projects, so that Scotland develops a deserved reputation for being a cyber resilient digital nation.
We want to ensure that Scotland reaps the benefits of being a cyber resilient nation within a 5G landscape. We will ensure our work on 5G is integrated with cyber security research with the aim of promoting world leading innovation in the cyber security sector.
How 5G Can Be Supported
While the UK's reserved 5G policy is expected to evolve, the continued availability of UK-wide funding streams for 5G is also crucial. The Scottish Government welcomes the UK Government's investment in 5G to date, but it is clear that there has been insufficient investment in Scotland. The UK Government must make further funding available to Scotland - and future funding allocations must fully take into account the challenges to widespread rollout which exist in Scotland due to our country's geography. We would expect to be fully consulted on future funding priorities.
The FTIR contains the phrase 'outside in' as regards the UK Government's aim of supporting deployment to the most rural and remote areas as well as urban areas, but it is not clear how this will manifest itself. A key component must be the rural dimension and we would welcome the opportunity to work with the UK Government and Ofcom to consider how investment can be best targeted at areas of Scotland where the private sector will not deploy to on a commercial basis.
For example, the Scottish Government is keen to explore models which could help reduce the industry's deployment and operational costs - to facilitate network deployment in rural and remote areas. This could potentially use existing public sector assets and/or deployments arising from the Scottish Government's Scottish 4G Infill programme as a testbed in which to target public investment in rural areas to reduce the 5G "notspots" in the future. In parallel, proof of concept 5G projects need to be supported by collaboratively working with industry and academia to attract early-stage investment in 5G networks and infrastructure in Scotland.
There also needs to be a more proactive regulatory regime, including access to radio spectrum for 5G. The Scottish Government is clear that proposed obligations for rural coverage in the forthcoming 700 MHz spectrum auctions should be set at a much higher level than currently proposed for Scotland - and that the proposed national level of coverage should be applied equally across all UK nations. At the same time, we will continue to engage with the UK Government and Ofcom and urge them to have a significantly lower expectation on receipts from these auctions, recognising that this additional coverage has to be paid for from somewhere. Auction conditions could also require network operators to turn their attention to rural areas earlier in deployment programmes, as has been implemented in Germany.
Short-Term Focus to Lay the Foundations for 5G
The Scottish Government is clear that action must be taken now and accelerated over the next few years to achieve our objective of making Scotland a world leader in 5G.
We also recognise that not all the frameworks underpinning current commercial infrastructure may be conducive to the widespread deployment of a technology which requires ubiquitous coverage to achieve real transformative social and economic benefits of 5G.
Achieving widespread 5G deployment will involve the coordination of industry and the public sector - and a clear understanding by all parties of how policy can drive change. This also extends to understanding how targeted public-sector support can potentially drive different and wider benefits. While industry is expected to lead the transition to 5G this is still being played out. The rollout of 5G networks is currently in its infancy and the public sector needs to engage with the private sector to not only deploy 5G infrastructure but deliver transformative benefit using the technology.
The Scottish Government wants to achieve a more consolidated and coordinated approach. Several inter-dependent themes have emerged to ensure Scotland builds on the existing momentum with key partners; these are captured below.
Leading by example:
- Preparing local authorities to support 5G deployment through being '5G ready' in terms of asset management, planning regulations, procurement, commercial and cyber resilience.
- Demonstrating 5G leadership in Scotland, incorporating academia, public sector and industry to focus on 5G activity (research and development, demonstrations and funding).
- Setting up multiple 5G infrastructure networks in different geographical and population locations which can be used to test use cases and demonstrate their application, with a view to being rolled out across Scotland.
- Explicitly designing security considerations from the outset of all 5G innovation and use case projects.
Creating the optimum conditions for private investment:
- Continue the deployment and development of backbone infrastructure through existing initiatives, such as the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband and R100 programmes for fibre, the Scottish 4G Infill programme for 4G, and stimulate private investment into global connectivity and data centres through the Host in Scotland initiative.
- Coordinate with the transport sector and look for opportunities to share fibre and install fibre during development.
- Develop commercial approaches on procurement and finance that look to engage private sector investment and skills while retaining public sector influence and control that is suitable to the 5G environment and the market.
- Ensure the Scottish policy environment supports 5G rollout: breaking down barriers to investment - including facilitating the use of publicly-owned assets for telecoms deployment and encouraging infrastructure sharing.