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5G transformative for UK plc, but potential impacts still vague

5G mobile technology looks set to transform the UK economy for the better, but the immaturity of the technology and lack of standards makes its true impact harder to judge, according to a report by Deloitte

The effect of 5G mobile networks on the UK economy is potentially transformative, even though standards remain largely undefined and potential impacts are therefore hard to quantify, according to a report compiled by consultants at Deloitte on behalf of the government.

The report, which was commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), is designed to provide a focused review on the socioeconomic benefits of mobile broadband as a whole, and the impacts of 5G, as part of DCMS’ evidence-gathering process to support the ongoing 5G Testbeds and Trials programme.

Overall, Deloitte concluded that mobile broadband was associated with a number of positive benefits for the economy. At a high level, these would include higher GDP and employment – a 2012 report by EE by Capital Economics suggested 4G would give the UK an annual 0.5% GDP bump.

Underlying those high-level benefits will be an initial stimulant to the economy in terms of operator investment in hiring engineers and rolling out new infrastructure, leading to more general improvements in productivity across UK businesses, and for consumers, enhanced access to new applications and services and a reduction in digital exclusion.

When it came to 5G, the report acknowledged the need to develop an approach to the new standard that would help the UK realise the potential of the technology.

“Further development of the technology, deployment scenarios and potential use cases will help aid precision in the quantification of these impacts,” wrote the report’s authors.

“As definitive standards are established and commercial deployments begin to materialise, tangible use cases with quantifiable benefits will become clearer. The availability of 5G technology, alongside associated technologies and devices, will allow for testing of use cases and proof-of-concept on a much wider scale.

“Further clarity on deployment plans and businesses cases for specific uses will provide greater certainty and enable further research to estimate the potential impacts of 6G more accurately.

“The UK government’s 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme will play a critical role in accelerating this process,” said the report.

The report largely echoed existing ideas of what the key features of 5G will be – such as massively increased data rates, latency and reliability, and support for far greater concentrations of devices (both smartphones and internet of things devices).

When it came to deployment in the UK, Deloitte’s analysts suggested that while the current Big Four mobile network operators (MNOs) would initially lead deployment, there seemed to be potential for new types of providers to come to the fore, such as enterprise network service providers which may offer vertical-specific private networks for enterprises, as previously explored by Computer Weekly.

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