But the slow rate of EU progress clashes with the speed at which 5G is being tested and rolled out by the largest telecoms companies across the continent. Matthew Howett, founder of research company Assembly, said: “You can understand why they want a common framework but working to that timescale is risible. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Mr Howett said that the impending report by the UK government into telecoms infrastructure and its view of Huawei’s involvement would be likely to prompt more action from member states and that the slow pace of the plan belied the commission’s previous view that Europe needs to push ahead rapidly with 5G deployment. “We are in a global race to launch this technology. This timescale is incompatible with the EU’s other objective to be a leader in 5G,” he said.
Ofcom is at the centre of a campaign to persuade users to upgrade to faster broadband as well as reviewing broadband firms' pricing practices and ensuring customers get the best available deals.
According to the regulator's research, those with a basic broadband connection have less than a one-in-five chance of being able to stream Netflix in ultra-high definition.
Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly, said the new code could act "as an incentive for broadband providers to move customers on to full-fibre connections, since speeds in the fibre network are easier to guarantee and less susceptible to network congestion".
"I don't doubt the need for full fibre coverage, or the eventual appetite for those speeds, but I struggle to see the need for quite the patchwork of infrastructure builders we now have," Matt Howett, founder and principal analyst at Assembly Research told TelecomTV.
"Scale is important in this game, especially when negotiating with suppliers, which surely puts smaller builders at a disadvantage," he noted. In addition, he warned that there is also recruitment and the training of engineers to build the networks to consider, which is a sizeable part of the cost of deployment. "What is that competing demand for labour going to do to the cost of build?" he asked.
"The benefits of 5G is that it not only delivers faster download speeds but crucially more capacity, which should go some way to alleviating problems of congestion in the network," said Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly.
"All research points to the fact UK consumers have an insatiable appetite for data that is only going to grow over time, especially as 5G will in some instances be a replacement for fixed broadband."
Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly, thinks the reason many do not upgrade is a combination of apathy and contentment with the service they have.
"I think fundamentally most households are generally satisfied with the speeds they are getting, and find their needs are met although, of course, this changes when you introduce larger families, multiple streams of HDTV, and online gaming.
"All of these more bandwidth-intense services will push up a household's requirements. The other thing to consider is the complexity faced when choosing a broadband package.
"While there are many good tools to help consumers shop around for the best deal, different contract durations, introductory tariffs, and added extras make changing package or supplier a daunting prospect for some."
The letter said the review aimed to ensure that Britain’s “critical national infrastructure remains resilient and secure”.
It did not mention Huawei by name, but said the “outcome of the review may lead to changes in the current rules” and that the companies “will need to take the review into consideration in any procurement decisions”.
Matthew Howett, principal analyst at Assembly Research, a research house that focuses on regulation and policy in the communications market, said: “I doubt we would have seen this if it was Nokia or Ericsson.”
Telecoms executives said the government may be pushing operators to make sure Huawei is only one of a diverse range of suppliers. But they also said it was possible that the Chinese company could be barred from the rollout of 5G in the UK, a move that would delay networks that are due to come online in 2019 and 2020.
The BDUK programme was widely criticised in its infancy after BT won all the contracts on offer, which led to accusations that it was rebuilding its monopoly position in commercially “unviable” areas using the public purse.
The programme has nonetheless successfully rolled out superfast broadband, which connects users to speeds of at least 24 Mbps, to more than 95 per cent of the country.
Matthew Howett, a telecoms and digital sector analyst, said: “Had there not been a subsidy arrangement it’s almost certain consumers in some rural areas would still be condemned to the slow lane for years to come.”
ARCEP is not talking regulation... yet. But nobody is in doubt that regulation will follow if the recommendations are ignored.
According to Luca Schiavoni, an analyst at Assembly Research, the move by ARCEP can be part explained by a long-running dispute between Orange and SFR over their 2011 deal to split the ‘medium density’ territories in France to deploy FTTH. When SFR merged with Numericable the new entity decided it wanted a bigger share of the areas. Unpleasantness broke out between the two telcos with the end-result that Numericable threatened that it would gather investors in a joint venture and cover disputed non-density areas anyway, overbuildiing some of Orange’s infrastructure.
“That didn’t happen, but clearly it would have been undesirable for everyone,” said Luca. “If you duplicate networks you’re likely to remove the case for investment for both yourself and for the other operator.”
So ARCEP wanted to avoid any possibility of this sort of “lose-lose” competitive play ocurring again since it tends to be unnerve potential investors and affect their investment plans.
So is this sort of problem a live issue in other European countries?
“Yes, I think it is a live issue,” says Luca, but we are still at question time, not at answers time. In the UK, for instance, we’re still at the stage where operators are finding out about the viability of their investments.
“In France the regulator has sent a recommendation which means it has no real binding power but it also means that the regulator has sent a message which says, ‘We are watching this and in the future, if needed, we will take action’.
Matthew Howett, founder of research firm Assembly, said the announcement made "commercial sense" because Openreach and others looking to upgrade the UK's infrastructure needed to prove that the demand is out there.
"This does seem like a genuine move to get more people onto the fibre network, and stave off criticism from those that say the UK falls behind," he said.
"It's about Openreach showing the industry and the regulator that it has changed and is implementing the further separation from BT not only to the letter, but also in the spirit of what was agreed."
“The EC’s fine is quite a slap ... but neither this, nor the remedies Google are being required to put in place are likely to structurally alter the market, suggests Luca Schiavoni, a senior analyst with Assembly Research.
“[It] fails to set out structural remedies for a market which almost inevitably tends towards concentration, and therefore is difficult to break up without significant disruptions. End users value interoperability, and so do application developers, which means the case for more competition in the space of operating systems is not so clear.
“Similarly, search engines are successful because of their algorithm and of the large data pools they can rely on, which creates a spiralling network effect driving users towards the largest providers almost naturally.
“While regulators figure out how to best approach all these issues, fines help the public coffers – but do not solve any market problem."
While the speeds in the UK were not the best, there were other measurements - such as availability and speed - where the UK would fare better, said Matthew Howett, principal analyst at research company Assembly.
"Some countries are also of course easier to roll out broadband in. The fastest country in this survey, Singapore, is about the size of London and obviously doesn't have the same challenges with remote and rural areas that we have in Britain," he said.
"Encouragingly, Britain is set for more fibre, with leading operators and their competitors all having committed to deploy so called full-fibre.
"Once those deployments ramp up, they would be reflected in similar league tables."