100% 4G coverage 'will reach UK by 2020'

Digital minister also promises 5G within a decade

Fibre broadband

Superfast broadband and 4G will be universally available in the UK by 2020, according to digital minister Matt Hancock.

Speaking yesterday at Broadband World Forum, Hancock said that deeper connectivity throughout the country, including rural areas, is essential to "keep up" with demand for high speed internet.

"By 2020, the volume of global internet traffic is expected to be 95 times its volume in 2005," said Hancock. "In the UK, fixed internet traffic is set to double every two years."

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To ensure Britain is able to provide the capacity for this data demand, broadband needs to be considered as the "fourth utility", according to Hancock.

The UK superfast broadband network is currently available to 91% of homes, due to rise to 95% by next year, with average speeds of 24Mbps.

But Hancock believes this extensive rollout of "part-fibre" broadband has meant that only 2% of premises enjoy full-fibre speeds.

Alongside a promise to roll out 100% 4G coverage by 2020, Hancock outlined plans for an extensive 5G network are also in place over the next decade.

"The future is fibre. Around the world the evidence increasingly points to fibre roll out as the underpinning of a digital nation," said Hancock. "Our ambition is to be a world leader in 5G - by defining industry standards and attracting and retaining investment in research."

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But before work begins on an even faster 5G network, Hancock stressed the importance of "strengthening" the current 4G rollout. The current maximum 64% coverage has been described as "poor" by a research body.

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The government has put pressure on UK network providers by imposing a legally binding obligation to deliver universal coverage. Although the "market will have to lead", the government has promised increased support.

"Reforms to planning laws and the Electronic Communications Code will make it cheaper to deploy infrastructure, including more masts by permitted development, taller masts, and small cells," said Hancock.

A competitive market is needed for plans to go ahead, he added. Companies such as BT will be "forced to open up access to, and maps of, its ducts and poles".

The government hopes this will provide greater fairness in the market, placing stronger emphasis on the role of the Advertising Standards Authority to deliver clarity.

Hancock also acknowledged the severe lack of connectivity on rail routes and has outlined plans to deliver 100% coverage of free Wifi on all passenger journeys by 2020, including boosts to mobile connectivity by filling in rail 'not-spots'.

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