What can a best-in-class network bring to the UK?

What can a best-in-class network bring to the UK?

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Today, we don’t think twice when sharing videos on WhatsApp or FaceTiming with friends and family – what are mundane activities these days would have been revolutionary back then. Now, the next chapter of mobile technology is upon us, and it promises to be just as revolutionary.

Many of us who remember the launch of 3G in the UK will be feeling nostalgic about it being switched off.

Although it might not seem like it now, when 3G launched in 2003, it completely changed the way we used mobile phones and communicated with each other – allowing for faster download speeds and better-quality phone calls, in a way that had never been seen before at the time.

Fast forward to today, where phasing out 3G allows for those last remaining radio frequencies to be repurposed, strengthening 4G and 5G services in the process.

Ultimately, as the remaining spectrum is redeployed, it gives customers access to faster and more reliable connectivity. It will also give us the network capacity to roll out 5G Standalone (SA) – 5G’s more powerful counterpart.

While the current 5G network only uses upgraded technology in its masts and also partly relies on 4G technology, 5G SA is a fully upgraded network in all its components – from radio, to access, transport and core – that solely uses 5G technology. In doing so, it enables much higher speeds, lower latency and increased reliability. Meanwhile, it can rely on both upgraded servers and RedStream fibre optic technology throughout its core network.

In short, 5G SA has the potential to completely change the way we live and work. This is why we have pledged £11 billion of investment, as part of our proposed merger with Three UK, to deliver a best-in-class 5G SA network to 99% of the UK’s population over the next 10 years.

If you think this sounds exciting, then you’re not alone. Let’s take a closer look at how life could change for millions in the UK with 5G SA in place.

A huge boost for public services

The Government, through its Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, is keen to roll out 5G Standalone coverage in all populated areas by 2030. If delivered at pace, the outcomes of this initiative will have a massive impact on society.

Research from WPI Economics and Vodafone UK has showed that a faster rollout of 5G SA could deliver £1 billion of savings in the NHS by enabling more patient care to be done remotely.

High-speed and high-quality video connections for online consultations could allow doctors to deliver care quickly and efficiently, while remote patient monitoring systems could reduce the need for frequent home visits.

Equally, the greater reliability and capacity that 5G can bring to the rail network – through real-time monitoring of passenger flow data and 5G-enabled sensors on tracks to improve maintenance efficiency – could save rail passengers 25 million hours of travel over the next 5 years. That would be worth £325 million to the UK economy.

These are huge economic gains, at a time when the public purse is feeling the strain.

Supporting SMEs

From public to private, this economic boost is set to supercharge the business community too. A best-in-class network can transform UK PLC by driving operational efficiencies, opening up new business opportunities in remote areas, and supporting businesses in their transition to net zero.

With nearly half (47%) of small businesses in rural areas experiencing unreliable data connectivity, the successful rollout of 5G across the UK is a must for businesses up and down the country.

Alternatively, a slower rollout would see UK businesses at risk of being outpaced by European rivals that are investing in 5G connectivity at a faster rate than we are.

Why is this so important? Well, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a lot at stake. At the current rate, the lack of availability for 5G SA means SMEs in the UK – currently the fifth most attractive place in Europe for small enterprises to use technology to grow – are missing out on up to £8.6 billion in savings a year.

But with an accelerated rollout, the UK could jump into second place, just behind Denmark. In turn, helping the UK to become the attractive digital superpower its businesses deserve, delivering immense savings to SMEs in every part of the nation.

Transforming entertainment as we know it

Beyond economic benefits, 5G SA will also completely transform the things we love most in the UK, from shopping to sports and gaming.

Take sport, for example. Modelling conducted by Development Economics, commissioned by Vodafone, recently showed that 5G-powered technology could boost the rugby economy by £139 million per season from 2029. This would be through sales of VR “seats” for fans at sold-out matches and a more digitised hospitality offering.

All of this relies on Internet of Things (IoT) and cloud technology, which will help stadium food and drink vendors manage customer demand and stock levels more efficiently, so they can serve more customers more quickly during busy periods.

5G SA will also help keep people connected in busy stadiums on match days when the network is often congested and fans struggle to get a signal. Network slicing, which is only possible on a 5G SA network, will support this by allowing providers to isolate “slices” of the network for specific purposes – meaning one can’t impact the performance of the other.

On a busy match day, one slice could be dedicated to connecting fans’ smartphones, with separate slices reserved for emergency services and live broadcasting. It could even facilitate entirely new types of broadcasting. For example, on sold-out match days, customers could watch the game outside the stadium in fan zones, using VR headsets to stream the game on an uninterrupted, real-time feed.

Powerful potential

While all these benefits may seem ambitious, they’re actually not out of the realm of possibility. That’s how powerful 5G SA is.

But for the UK to become a technology powerhouse, where everyone and anyone can access a best-in-class advanced network, we need to be able to operate in a pro-investment environment that prioritises having the right infrastructure in place.

Our £11 billion investment over the next 10 years, as part of our proposed merger with Three UK, will only bring us closer to this goal of delivering a high-quality, reliable 5GSA network to 99% of the UK’s population.

This is why I’m so excited by what the future will hold when it comes to 5G SA – and quietly confident that these ambitions can become a reality sooner than you may think.

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