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Saturday, September 9 • 2:00pm - 2:33pm
Uncertainty in the National Infrastructure Assessment of Mobile Telecommunications Infrastructure

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The UK’s National Infrastructure Commission is undertaking the first ever National Infrastructure Assessment, of which telecommunications is a key component. The aim of this task it to ensure efficient and effective digital infrastructure delivery over the long-term, the results of which will be used to direct both industry and government over coming decades. However, taking a strategic long-term approach to the assessment of telecommunications infrastructure is a challenging endeavor due to rapid technological innovation in both the supply of, and demand for, digital services.

In this paper, the uncertainty associated with the National Infrastructure Assessment of digital communications infrastructure is explored in the UK, focusing specifically on issues pertaining to:

(i) uncertainty in future demand, and

(ii) ongoing convergence between sub-sectors (fixed, mobile, wireless and satellite).

These were the two key issues identified at The Future of Digital Communications workshop held at The University of Cambridge (UK) in February 2017. Currently industry and government have very little information to direct them as to how these issues will affect the long-term performance of digital infrastructure. This paper not only quantifies the uncertainty in different national telecommunications strategies, but it quantifies the spatio-temporal dynamics of infrastructure roll-out under each scenario. This is vital information for policy makers to understand disparities in the capacity and coverage of digital services over the long-term (e.g. in broadband markets), and helps in the early identification of areas of potential market failure (for which policy has traditionally been reactive not proactive).

The methodology applies the Cambridge Communications Assessment Model, which has been developed exclusively for the evaluation of national digital infrastructure strategies, over 2017-2030. The approach taken is to treat digital communications infrastructure as a system-of-systems which therefore includes the fixed, mobile, wireless and satellite sectors (hence, enabling the impact of convergence to be assessed). Demographic and economic forecast data indicate the total number of households and businesses annually, and an estimate of the penetration rate is calculated using this information. Network infrastructure data is then collated to indicate current capacity and coverage, with cost information then being applied to estimate viability of incremental infrastructure improvement. Existing annual capital investment is used to constrain roll-out of new infrastructure.

The results of this analysis actually quantify for policy-makers at the National Infrastructure Commission the uncertainty associated with:

(i) future demand, and

(ii) ongoing convergence in digital services.

It finds that more emphasis should be placed on how the demand for digital infrastructure affects the spatio-temporal roll-out of digital infrastructure due to viability issues. The results conclude that while national infrastructure assessment is a valid method for thinking more strategically about our long-term infrastructure needs, we must recognize the inherent uncertainty associated with this particular sector, as this has not been adequately addressed to date at the policy level in the UK. Rapid technological innovation affects our ability to accurately forecast long-term roll-out, making it essential that rigorous examination of this uncertainty is both quantified and visualized to support policy decision-making.

avatar for Trey Hanbury

Trey Hanbury

Partner, Hogan Lovells


Edward Oughton

University of Cambridge

Saturday September 9, 2017 2:00pm - 2:33pm EDT
ASLS Hazel Hall - Room 332

Attendees (7)