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Three UK says government should stop ‘extracting’ money from the 5G roll-out

Susan Buttsworth, chief operating officer at Three UK.
(Image credit: Three UK.)

At the recent 5G Realised Summit - currently taking place in London - Susan Buttsworth, chief operating officer at Three UK, has put forward a number of ways in which the government can help operators deliver 5G, including a reduction in red tape, clearer regulation, and an overhaul of how spectrum is currently allocated.

"If we could simplify that process, but also get consistency between what central and local government wants, that would be hugely beneficial.”

Susan Buttsworth, Three UK.

“We’ve got three examples of how the government can help us more,” Buttsworth explained. “The first one is simply about planning, and consistency between local government and central government. On the one hand, the central government is encouraging us to do things [to roll out 5G networks], and on the other hand local authorities are saying “No, we’re sorry”, and introducing blanket restrictions on certain types of planning. 

“And that doesn’t just add time, it adds cost. And if we could simplify that process, but also get consistency between what central and local government wants, that would be hugely beneficial.”

The reticence of local planning departments to approve 5G mast installations and upgrades has also been mirrored in the US, where MNOs claimed that local authorities were not adhering to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declaration, intended to aid the densification of 5G networks, and ensure that cities don't put unnecessary barriers in place. 

Extracting spectrum revenue

Another issue mirrored in the US and the UK is the monetisation of available spectrum for 5G delivery, which has cost operators billions, both in the US and in the UK. These auctions have been run by the FCC in the US, and by Ofcom in the UK, and in both countries, operators have raised concerns about the sheer amount of expenditure they need to allocate to spectrum.

"The government here needs to let us invest in the networks, not extract money from the operators."

Susan Buttsworth, Three UK.

“Another example of how things could improve, for us, would be to look at how spectrum auctions, such as the one coming up in early 2021, are run,” Buttsworth said. “One of the things that we’ve suggested is that we could actually do an administry of allocation, instead of an auction. The government would still get revenue from this, but it would allow us to then have more money to invest in rolling out the 5G infrastructure.

“The government here needs to let us invest in the networks, not extract money from the operators.”

The last area Three UK said that it wants to see improved is around clarity, and specifically in relation to 5G regulation, which – especially in 2020 – has been extremely difficult for operators to keep up with.

“It’s not so much that there is regulation,” Buttsworth explained.  “But particularly in 2020, there’s been ever changing regulation. So we’ve had announcements in January, about certain regulation that was being introduced, which we marshalled around. But then it changed again in July. So we marshalled around that. And it’s now being considered to pass that into law, but it’s not concrete yet. So that changing regulation is really quite difficult for a program the size of [Three’s] 5G roll out,” she concluded.


Dan is a British journalist with 20 years of experience in the design and tech sectors, producing content for the likes of Microsoft, Adobe, Dell and The Sunday Times. In 2012 he helped launch the world's number one design blog, Creative Bloq. Dan is now editor-in-chief at 5Gradar, where he oversees news, insight and reviews, providing an invaluable resource for anyone looking to stay up-to-date with the key issues facing 5G.