The Government’s ambition for the UK to become a 5G leader is not just a worthwhile aspiration, but a compelling one. At Vodafone, we are committed to support the Government’s ambition with action and investment. We were the UK’s first operator to carry 5G traffic over a commercial mobile network. Our ever-growing 5G network is now live in 15 UK towns and cities, as well as 55 cities and towns across Europe.
Fast, reliable internet and voice connections bring extensive societal and economic benefits and 5G will be no different. The speed, capacity and almost zero lag of 5G will not only mean faster, ever more reliable mobile connectivity. It will also enable a new world of applications from smart cities and driverless cars, mobile healthcare, to remote-controlled robotic surgery, security, smart homes, and rich augmented reality on the move. 5G will drive forward innovation in all these sectors and make Britain’s Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) come alive. But funding constraints, skills gaps and risk-averse policies could nip this future in the bud before it even has a chance to flower.
The 5G value chain could be worth nearly £59 billion to the UK. Early predictions have indicated that 5G could support 600,000 UK jobs. With the right policy approach, the UK can unlock this potential and lay the groundwork for a wave of Digital Super Towns capable of delivering economic growth across the country.
Vodafone has plans to extend 5G to more cities and town in the UK this year. But speeding up the roll-out of this game-changing technology requires a more strategic approach to the way government, the regulator and industry work together.
To realise 5G’s full potential, we need to create the right investment environment. By adopting 5G-powered technologies, the public sector can not only make public services more efficient than ever but set an example for the private sector too.
Governments run the vital services that stand to be transformed by 5G and related technologies like IoT. This not only means the NHS, but also services provided by local government, such as street lighting, smart public buildings, waste management and CCTV. Government should lead the market and incentivise innovation through its own procurement strategy at central, regional and local levels. More 5G funding should be made available to Metro Mayors to further support 5G rollout and innovation across the UK. Policy tools and guidance should also be used to encourage take up and innovation.
As part of this effort, policymakers should establish a ‘smart tech by default’ procurement strategy that drives the take up of 5G technologies across public services. This would help create a virtuous circle, where investment in new 5G network infrastructure and technology results in new revenue streams, which in turn provides funding for further network investment.
To encourage experimentation and innovation through procurement, government should also introduce “4IR innovation funds” for local government. This would incentivise the rollout of 4IR technologies such as smart street lighting, inspection drones, autonomous public transport and smart bins.
For outsourced services, outcomes-based contracts could create stronger incentives for service providers to adopt innovative and productivity-enhancing technologies. Under outcome-based contracts, service providers are paid according to the actual public-facing benefits they deliver, rather than the means with which they deliver them. In the case of waste collection, for example, collecting firms might be incentivised to roll out bin fill sensors. This would allow them to only empty bins on an as-needed basis, thereby saving public money.
5G is brimming with potential to transform public life in the UK for the better. Bringing its many benefits to as much of the country as possible will require a visionary, joined-up approach to procurement, and investment. This is a significant endeavour, but the bountiful rewards are worth the effort. As citizens, constituents and customers, we deserve nothing less.
By Scott Petty, CTO, Vodafone UK
 Deloitte, The impacts of mobile broadband and 5G – a literature review for DCMS, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/714112/The_impacts_of_mobile_broadband_and_5G.pdf, p17.