19 Dec 2022
by Andrea Dona

Collaboration is mission critical for telecoms in 2023

Guest blog by Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK for techUK

December 2022 saw the 30th anniversary of the first UK text message – not only a first for Vodafone, but also ushering in a new digital era.

Now, as we approach 2023, we’re curious about the big innovations we’ll see, and excited about how we can unlock the UK’s true digital potential.

1. The debut of 5G standalone

Although the industry has been banging the 5G drum for many years, we’re yet to experience the real potential of 5G on a standalone network.

Today, 5G is essentially 5G radios sitting on existing 4G networks offering a speed upgrade. But 5G standalone (5G SA) is an end-to-end 5G solution, and will allow us to realise the benefits of 5G that have been spoken about for years. It will elevate customer experiences to new heights, bringing more reliable connectivity, enhanced security, improved battery life and a low latency (bufferless) experience, as well as new functionality to deliver concepts like driverless vehicles, large scale and real-time industry automation and an integrated healthcare system.

Crucially, it will enable entirely new opportunities. This is a point often glossed over when discussing each “G” – we’re building on previous generations to deliver ideas and services that would have been impossible on 4G or even today’s 5G.

Think what 4G did for Deliveroo or Uber. 5G SA will create new business models and services that are currently unattainable. And with that comes not only tech innovation but also economic growth across every region of the UK. The industry has been beavering away on 5G SA in recent years and 2023 may yet be the year we see it come to fruition.

But this can only be achieved with the right investment environment. The cost of deploying basic 5G connectivity could lead to a £3-5 billion investment gap for the industry by 2030. For full 5G, the gap increases to more than £25 billion.

The Government cannot afford to ignore this challenge, because – with the right investment to enable full 5G roll-out – the results could be worth more than £150 billion to the UK economy by 2030.

It is mission critical that we achieve the right policy reform to drive 5G SA growth here. The benefits of 5G may not be democratically spread around the world – this is a race, and whilst the UK is in a good position, we need to do more.

2. Promising ground for innovation

We await the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy in the new year, which will set out the Government’s approach to 5G between now and 2030.

Following a consultation, it will set out a strategic framework for the UK’s development, deployment and adoption of 5G.

It is great that Government is taking 5G seriously – we hope the strategy will create a more favourable environment for evolving existing technologies and creating new tech breakthroughs in critical wireless infrastructure like OpenRAN and 5G standalone.

OpenRAN is a more efficient, diverse and customer-focused approach to building mobile networks and we’ve been hard at work deploying OpenRAN in both rural and more complex urban locations this year.

But Government and industry buy-in on a national wireless framework that supports OpenRAN deployment would help us take it to the next level as well as help the Government deliver on its ambition for the UK to become a global digital connectivity leader.

3. The cost-of-living crisis

Although new innovations make me excited, we must ensure no one is left behind on the UK’s digital journey. Our industry responded to the cost-of-living crisis this year, with many providers launching social tariffs, as Vodafone did, in addition to the free connectivity we already offer to help the most vulnerable stay connected.

But with rising bills and stagnating wages, more support is needed.

Our research recently revealed that one million working families are at risk of falling the wrong side of the digital divide due to the rising cost of living. I’m proud we’ve already connected one million people living in digital exclusion through our everyone.connected campaign, and we’ve recently extended our commitment to help a total of four million people cross the digital divide by the end of 2025. 

We’re making good progress but know there is more work to do.

Here, collaboration is crucial. In 2023, we’ll focus on working with our charity partners to trial new ways to get free connectivity into the hands of those in need. For example, our ‘Help through Hardship’ phoneline in partnership with the Trussell Trust and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau will provide free SIMs to people struggling financially.

But digital exclusion is an incredibly complex and often invisible issue. That’s why we need Government to collaborate with business and charities to identify and develop targeted solutions that create meaningful, long-term change. In an economic downturn, the public and private sector has a responsibility to help households and businesses stay connected and access the opportunities connectivity provides.

In the 30 years since that first text message, there have been thousands of digital innovations. To fuel the next chapter, we must encourage more people and businesses to exploit the digital connectivity available to them and realise its full potential into 2023 and beyond.

I’m looking forward to seeing how much we can achieve together in the next 12 months.

Bio: Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK, reveals his three areas of focus for the telecoms industry in 2023. He explores the things he’s most excited about but also the challenges he foresees and ways the industry, regulators and Government can work together to drive innovation and support customers.

LinkedIn channels: Vodafone UK on Twitter here and author Andrea Dona on LinkedIn here.


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Andrea Dona

Andrea Dona

Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK