Sun, 24 Jun 2018
WEST Berkshire is bidding to become the first rural area in the UK to have a 5G broadband network.
Senior district councillor James Fredrickson (Con, Victoria), who is spearheading the campaign, believes it is one of the ways West Berkshire can build on its digital status after the district was found to be the home of the UK’s top tech town.
Last month, the Tech Nation report 2018 showed that Newbury beat Reading and London in terms of ‘digital density’, which measures digital tech specialisation in clusters compared to density in the UK.
It follows more positive news for the district, after another independent body, Thinkbroadband, found that West Berkshire has some of the fastest average broadband speeds for rural areas in the country.
At a meeting of the council’s executive last Thursday, opposition member Jeff Brooks (Lib Dem, Thatcham West) questioned what plans the council had to keep abreast of its ‘top tech’ status.
Referring to the loss of pharmaceutical giant Bayer, which relocated from Newbury to Reading’s Green Park in 2016, Mr Brooks said: “While we’re saying it’s all wonderful here, we lost a very important employer to Green Park.”
Mr Brooks then asked Mr Fredrickson, who is the council’s portfolio holder for economic development, what the plan was for the coming financial year.
Mr Brooks said: “On the timetable for this economic development plan that you’re going to have so much fun with, I think it’s very important to understand how we leverage this good news – how West Berkshire becomes ambitious to go out and say ‘we are open for high-tech businesses, look at our infrastructure’.
“I’ve not seen anything yet.”
But Mr Fredrickson once again suggested that West Berkshire had the “core components to be genuinely open for business” – which could be enhanced by the future roll-out of the latest 5G wireless technology.
The Conservative member confirmed the council has been engaging with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Local Government Association to explore whether it would be possible to implement 5G coverage in the area.
The move would see West Berkshire become the first rural area to have 5G technology.
“Fingers crossed, work is progressing and it requires a lot of co-ordination from a lot of national companies,” said Mr Fredrickson.
5G technology – short for ‘fifth generation mobile networks’ – promises mobile data speeds that far outstrip the fastest home broadband network currently available in the UK.
The service is up to 1,000 times faster than 4G – the latest iteration of mobile data technology.
But roll-out of the service in the UK isn’t expected to start until 2020.