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Ofcom to launch industry consultation on 5G introduction

The British communications regulator predicts 80-fold increase in data usage by 2030.

The Office of Communications, commonly known as Ofcom, is planning to launch this week an industry consultation about freeing radio frequencies for 5G internet services.

With the early launch of 5G, Ofcom wants to avoid the delays that have seen the UK fall behind many other developed countries in rolling out 4G services, apart from fears of a future capacity crunch in the airwaves.

Steve Unger, chief technology officer of Ofcom, said: “There are three ways to meet the demand for more data – more spectrum, better use of spectrum and more cell sites. We need to progress on all three fronts, which is in effect what we mean by 5G, to meet the 80-fold increase in data usage we predict by 2030.

“We expect 5G will be about making mobile data ubiquitous – you won’t lose reception, or worry that your service will be too slow. It will always be there, always reliable, to the extent that it will become a fixed line substitute.”

Professor Rahim Tafazolli will oversee a £35m grant from the UK government and mobile phone companies to help develop 5G mobile technologies at the University of Surrey.

Tafazolli said that work needs to begin immediately. He added: “Spectrum crunch will basically mean a shortage of supply and rising prices for users, leading to a widening gap between the technology haves and have nots, smaller markets for businesses and restrictions on the development of web-enabled technologies, products and services.”

“Instead of the great opening up of the web, mass participation and new commercial opportunities, we’ll see a closing down,” Tafazolli concluded.

A key part of the 5G strategy will be freeing, and eventually selling, the high-powered lower bandwidth that is currently being used by TV services in the UK, setting the stage for the next lucrative spectrum auction for the government, reported the Financial Times.

The regulator is also working on ways to use spectrum more efficiently, such as utilising unlicensed frequencies between existing uses and WiFi.

4G services in the UK will be available this summer.

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.