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O2 canvasses support from UK Plc to build case for 5G

O2 CEO Mark Evans is writing to every FTSE 100 boss in the UK seeking to build consensus around 5G use cases, and drum up support for investment

O2 CEO Mark Evans has written to every FTSE 100 chief executive in the UK to invite them to participate in the operator’s 5G mobile network testbed trials ahead of an anticipated commercial service launch in 2020.

While 5G’s promises around the internet of things (IoT) and automation may well prove to be transformative for business and industry, to date much of the hype has been around enhanced consumer mobile broadband and most of the business cases put forward for investment have reflected this.

O2 wants to change this by working with the UK’s leading companies to better understand the processes and use cases that might benefit from 5G.

“Mobile, and specifically 5G, is one of the UK’s most powerful opportunities to strengthen our economy, enrich our society and outperform on the global stage,” said Evans. “Our national testbed commitment is testament to this belief and we are excited by the value it could create for UK Plc.”

“5G is around the corner and it would be foolish not to embrace new technology, but let’s not do this in isolation, let’s not deploy technology for technology’s sake. Let’s work with businesses particularly because we understand consumer needs more … in collaboration over how to deploy 5G to meet that business need,” he told reporters at a London event marking the operator’s half-yearly results announcement.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Evans said the potential negative impact of Brexit on UK businesses was not something that was keeping him awake at night, and that O2 was not specifically modelling any scenarios for how the investment landscape might suddenly change in the event of a cliff edge Brexit with no deal.

“We still believe that the UK economy will continue to demand and have an interest in connectivity, particularly mobile. Our biggest challenge at the moment is meeting customer demand [and] there aren’t many sectors that struggle to meet the demands of their customers. So do we think that Brexit will have a significant impact on that? The answer is no,” he said.

We’ve just spent £524m buying into 4G and 5G capabilities that’s going to last 20-plus years. If you’re saying have we produced scenario analysis on what Brexit might do, the answer is no, we haven’t, and we honestly don’t believe we need to because the demand will still be there.”

In spite of the Brexit headwinds, O2’s work on its future 5G network is progressing at pace. Its testbed at The O2 venue in London is set to be activated in the autumn to test out more consumer-oriented use cases, such as virtual and augmented reality and high-definition content streaming. To begin with, it will be open only to O2 customers.

It is also rolling out 5G-ready small cells in a number of inner London boroughs through an agreement struck with Arqiva, partly to enhance its 4G network and partly to lay the foundations for rapid 5G deployment in the capital, and working on readying the 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum it won in April’s Ofcom spectrum auction to run live services.

Its half-year results revealed total revenues up 4.2% year-on-year to £2.84bn, while net operating income spiked 7.2% to £773m.

O2 – which is owned by Spanish telco Telefónica – revealed its contract base expanded a little over 1% year-on-year, with net additions of 100,000 for the six months to 30 June 2018, and 47,000 excluding machine-to-machine (M2M) connections. It now has a total of 32.1 million mobile accesses, which includes customers using the O2 network through mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile.

The operator also highlighted some of the work it is doing to build and maintain its customer base through new family-oriented mobile plans, new roaming destinations including the US and Australia, tie-ups with Netflix on selected tariffs, and partnerships with music artists including Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran, Lady Gaga and Shawn Mendes to give users priority access to ticket booking for concerts.

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