The Future of Telecommunications in the UK: Innovations and Market Growth


April 8, 2024 - 8 min read

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According to Mordor Intelligence, the size of British telecom customer services stands at USD 35.9 billion as of 2024. At the same time, Grand View Research values the global telecoms services market at USD 2,040.67 billion, meaning the UK’s market share amounts to 1.758%.

Mordor Intelligence also estimates that the British telecom market will reach a valuation of USD 44.92 billion in five years, achieving a 4.59% compound annual growth rate (CAGR). At the same time, the global market is projected to expand at a slightly faster rate of 6.20%, which could be potentially explained by the broadening of access to related tech across developing nations.

5G Revolution: Transforming the Connectivity Landscape

In May 2019, EE marked the introduction of 5G in the United Kingdom, positioning the country as an early adopter on the global stage. Over the subsequent years, the deployment of 5G services accelerated, with the number of mobile base stations offering 5G multiplying fourfold to surpass 6,500 sites in 2021.

Currently, 5G telecommunications in the UK operate in a non-standalone (NSA) mode, relying on the existing 4G LTE core network, MI reports. However, the trajectory points towards a transition to 5G standalone (SA) as anticipation grows for enhanced 5G capabilities, such as ultra-reliable and low-latency communication (URLLC) and virtual network functions like network slicing. Collaborative initiatives, exemplified by edge computing and the 5G SA partnership involving EE, the BBC, and Ericsson, showcase the transformative potential of these technologies.

The envisioned shift to a cloud-based core and the planned introduction of 5G SA has paved the way for EE’s ambitious goal to extend 5G coverage to 90% of the United Kingdom’s geographic area by 2028. This strategic move is aligned with the broader industry trend of British telecom customer services leveraging advanced 5G functionalities to unlock innovative use cases.

Internet of Things (IoT) Integration in Telecom

In a bid to democratize the benefits of the Internet of Things (IoT) across businesses of varying sizes and digital maturity levels, Vodafone has introduced a range of IoT solutions. One notable example provided by Mordor Intelligence is Smart Connectivity, designed to empower logistics companies to track shipments or vehicles even in remote areas where traditional telecommunications service proves impractical. This solution ensures a robust WiFi connection in nearly any corner of the United Kingdom. The potential applications extend to emergency services in rural regions, facilitating swift coordination in hazardous situations and enabling communication among first responders.

To foster the growth of IoT in telecom, a regulator overseeing British telecom customer services, the Office of Communications, has identified key focus areas following consultations with industry stakeholders. Spectrum availability, data privacy, network security and resilience, and network addressing emerge as the regulator’s top priorities for propelling IoT expansion. Recognizing the IoT’s potential to heighten dependence on secure and reliable data networks and storage, the Office of Communications underscores this as a pivotal aspect in promoting growth. The recent adoption of the latest communications protocol, particularly IPv6, is highlighted as a significant enabler for accommodating numerous connections, further contributing to the evolution of IoT.

Smart Cities and Telecommunications Integration

BT unveiled its latest narrowband Internet of Things network on February 22, 2024—a substantial investment aimed at propelling the growth of smart cities and industries across the UK. Leveraging the acclaimed EE mobile network, this multi-million-pound initiative extends coverage to 97% of the UK population.

Infrastructure Support for Smart Cities

The deployment of this network positions BT to accelerate the development of future ‘smart cities.’ Applications span monitoring and optimizing energy usage, storage, and distribution. The agricultural sector is also poised to benefit significantly, as demonstrated by BT’s prior trials involving sensors to monitor haystack temperature, prevent fire risks, and ensure livestock safety through gate sensors.

IoT in Urban Planning

BT’s innovative NB-IoT network empowers the connection of low-data-demand assets, including street lighting and underground water sensors, through an intelligent network. Beyond ensuring extended battery life, this connectivity fosters efficiency and cost reduction, such as the automatic detection of water infrastructure leaks.

Data Management for City Operations

The NB-IoT network, known for its low-power characteristics, holds the promise of revolutionizing sectors like utilities, construction, and the public domain. By securely and reliably connecting devices, it enables the automation of numerous processes currently reliant on manual oversight or direct human intervention.

Cybersecurity Challenges and Solutions

Threat Landscape in Telecommunications

The security landscape for British telecom customer services providers faces a diverse range of threats, encompassing not only hostile state-sponsored cyber actors, exemplified by the Russian state attack on network infrastructure devices, but also organized crime entities and smaller-scale fraudsters. Understanding and defending against these threats requires a comprehensive analysis of potential attack vectors, a task facilitated by the use of an ‘attack tree,’ alternatively referred to as a ‘threat tree.’

The fundamental concept of an attack tree involves a goal at the root, with each branching path leading to the leaves, representing distinct routes to achieve that goal. Within the context of the DCMS review, the security strand, led by the NCSC, delved into this approach by constructing a set of attack trees tailored specifically for telecoms networks.

The identified attacks are categorized into four primary classes, each offering insights into the diverse nature of potential threats:

  1. Espionage: Involves the theft or corruption of data within the network, highlighting the vulnerability to illicit access and the compromise of sensitive information.
  2. Disruption: Focuses on the intentional interruption of services, affecting either specific sections or the entirety of a network. This class underscores the potential impact on operational continuity.
  3. Pre-positioning: Encompasses clandestine activities aimed at establishing a covert presence within the network’s administrative systems, laying the groundwork for future unauthorized actions.
  4. National Dependence: Addresses the risks associated with reliance on external entities for critical aspects of the network’s lifecycle, including design, procurement, operation, support, or incident management. This class underscores the importance of mitigating dependence on third parties to enhance the resilience of the UK’s networks.

By categorizing threats into these classes and constructing corresponding attack trees, the review aims to provide a structured framework for understanding, assessing, and fortifying the defenses against potential risks to UK telecoms networks.

Protection Strategies

The National Cyber Security Centre conducted a technical security analysis of the UK’s telecoms sector and came up with a set of actionable recommendations for British telecom customer service providers, which you may find here for further implementation.

Regulatory Frameworks and Policy Impacts

The main piece of legislation regulating the UK telecoms industry is the Telecommunications (Security) Act of 2021, which was enacted to address security concerns. The key features include:

  • National Security Considerations: The Act is designed to enhance the security of the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure by addressing potential threats to national security. It recognizes the critical role of telecommunications networks in the functioning of modern societies and aims to safeguard them against various risks.
  • Risk Assessment and Mitigation Measures: The legislation establishes a framework for assessing the security risks posed by telecommunications equipment and services. It may empower relevant authorities to identify potential vulnerabilities and prescribe measures to mitigate these risks.
  • Designation of Telecommunications Providers: The Act grants authorities the power to designate certain telecommunications providers or equipment suppliers based on security considerations. Appointed entities may be subject to additional security requirements, scrutiny, or restrictions to ensure the integrity and resilience of the infrastructure underpinning British telecom services.
  • Government Oversight: The legislation involves increased government oversight and involvement in ensuring the security of telecommunications networks. This includes mechanisms for information sharing, risk assessments, and collaboration between government agencies and private sector entities in the telecommunications industry.
  • Compliance and Enforcement: The Act establishes compliance requirements for telecommunications providers, and there may be provisions for enforcement mechanisms to ensure adherence to security standards. Non-compliance with the prescribed security measures may lead to penalties or other regulatory actions.
  • International Cooperation: Given the interconnected nature of global telecommunications, the Act emphasizes the importance of international cooperation in addressing security challenges. It also encourages collaboration with other countries and international organizations to collectively enhance the security of global telecommunications networks.

To obtain the most accurate and up-to-date information on the Telecommunications (Security) Act, we recommend checking official government sources or legal databases for the latest amendments, regulations, or developments related to the legislation.

Telecom Industry Investments and Funding Trends

Investment Trends in Telecom Infrastructure

A potential merger deal between Vodafone and Three is one of the major developments of late. If it goes through, the new British telecom customer services operator will become the largest, surpassing UK telecom companies such as EE and Virgin Media O2 with a combined 27 million subscribers.

Negotiations between Vodafone and Three have been ongoing since H2 2023. In the proposed arrangement, Vodafone is set to hold a majority stake of 51%, while CK Hutchison will retain 49% of the new business entity.

The strategic plans outlined in the negotiations encompass a substantial commitment to invest GBP 11 billion in the United Kingdom over the course of the next decade. As part of the agreement, Vodafone holds an option to acquire CK Hutchison’s stake three years following the anticipated completion of the merger, slated to conclude by the end of 2024.

This potential acquisition signals a noteworthy development in the evolving landscape of telecommunications partnerships, with both companies aligning their interests and resources for future growth and collaboration, although CMA may not be very enthusiastic about it.

Government Initiatives and Funding Programs

The United Kingdom has officially become a member of a worldwide coalition for telecommunications innovation, joining forces with countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States of America. This collaborative effort is geared towards bolstering the resilience of communication networks on a global scale, with a focus on fostering cooperation in research and development, information sharing, and international outreach initiatives.

In a parallel commitment to advancing telecommunications technology domestically, the UK government has allocated a significant GBP 70 million to the Future Telecoms UKRI Technology Missions Fund (TMF) Programme on October 5 last year. This substantial financial support for British telecom customer services aims to propel the development of cutting-edge telecommunications technology within the country. The initiative underscores the government’s dedication to staying at the forefront of technological advancements and ensuring a robust and forward-looking telecommunications infrastructure for the nation.

Summing up, the telco industry in the UK is headed towards consolidation, with some of the most prominent players joining forces to win a larger market share. Technologies such as 5G and edge computing are on the rise, aiming to extend coverage to the underserved customer segments.

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