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Lack of clarity around 5G fuels misconceptions about next-generation networks

Revolutionary potential of next-generation 5G network is huge, but research suggests key messages are not hitting home with businesses or consumers

Attacks on 5G infrastructure in the UK following bogus social media reports of a connection between the next-generation networks and Covid-19 could be due to a lack of understanding about the technology, according to research from mobile network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS).

With YouGov, GWS surveyed more than 200 organisations with workforces ranging from 100 to over 5,000 employees and polled over 2,000 UK adults, aiming to gain an on-the-ground view of sentiments around mobile network performance.

The fundamental finding was that many in the UK are aware of 5G, but more effort is required from operators and other key stakeholders to educate the nation on the wide range of benefits that can be expected once the 5G network is fully deployed across the country.

Worryingly, the research indicated a level of indifference around 5G and a lack of urgency from both businesses and consumers in taking advantage of the emerging network, suggesting that communication around the diversity and power of 5G-enabled applications is not getting through to the public.

Among UK businesses, awareness of the future importance of 5G is strong. Despite it still being in the early stages of roll-out across the country, just over half (56%) of respondents said 5G was already important to their organisation, and more than a quarter (27%) believed 5G would be important to their business in the future. Just over a quarter of businesses were also keen to see more 5G offerings from their operator.

But although many businesses were cognisant of a 5G-enabled future, a fully deployed 5G network looks like arriving any day soon. Only one-fifth of firms rated the provision of 5G applications and services as one of their top three mobile priorities over the next 12 months.

By comparison, more than twice as many emphasised consistent voice call accessibility and quality (46%) and better remote working connectivity (45%) as key priorities. Fewer than one in 10 (9%) companies reported complaints about a lack of access to 5G from people within their organisation, far outweighed by more traditional mobility complaints such as mobile network coverage issues (39%) and dropped voice calls (28%).

UK consumers were also found to be aware that 5G would be important in the future, with over three-quarters (76%) saying they planned to get a 5G phone and 53% of those expecting to make the switch within the next three years. Only 15% said they never intend to buy a 5G-ready phone.

Yet in the business community, there seemed no real rush to buy into 5G. Only 19% of consumers said the speed of the new technology would change the way they use their phones. A general lack of enthusiasm for the new network seems apparent, with two-thirds (67%) saying they would wait for 5G to become the new normal by continuing to use 4G until they are automatically transferred by their operator.

GWS speculated that uncertainty about the benefits of 5G could be a factor in this – almost two-fifths of consumers simply did not know whether 5G would improve the quality of mobile service they receive compared with 4G, the same proportion as those who do believe there will be an improvement.

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GWS CEO Paul Carter noted that although it was a positive for operators that many UK firms already recognise the importance of 5G for their future business applications, the research showed there was a significant need for a stronger, clearer communications strategy around the huge potential of 5G, particularly at a time when people have become more reliant on network connectivity than ever before.

“However, there appears to be ongoing uncertainty among businesses and their employees as to what 5G really is and what it could mean for levelling up business capabilities, as well as confusion from the wider public as to whether 5G has actually arrived yet and in what capacity,” said Carter.

“Now is a crucial time for all key stakeholders in the roll-out of 5G – including authorities, operators and consumer-facing groups – to reach out to the public to quell common misunderstandings and take a more active role in educating the nation on the tangible, positive ways that 5G will impact people and the communities they engage in.”

Carter added that the industry needs to go beyond what he called the fairly limited scope of existing messages around increases in speed, to communicate the extent of what 5G could truly mean for both businesses and consumers.

“We need to be giving people much more regular, multi-layered messages around why 5G is not just a step-up in terms of a single factor like network speed, but a real step-change in how we will conduct our lives in terms of wellbeing, productivity, transportation, lifestyle, availability and costs of resources and services, and much more,” he said.

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