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5G can improve society more than AI

Vodafone reveals that over half of UK adults believe 5G has the potential to improve their day-to-day life, more so than artificial intelligence, and points to potentially massively lucrative 5G use cases

5G-enabled technologies will deliver significant improvements across society, including saving the NHS almost £1bn per year, according to economic modelling commissioned by leading operator Vodafone and conducted by WPI Economics.

The survey of 2,000 UK adults found healthcare (31%), utilities such as energy and water (21%), and railways (20%) were identified as key sectors that people believe will benefit most from 5G. Unsurprisingly, said Vodafone, those were also the areas people say they have been most frustrated with in the past 12 months.

The 5G roll-out modelling by WPI Economics combined estimates of the productivity and economic growth benefits of 5G. It drew on a range of studies to estimate an average benefit, with evidence drawn from the regional roll-out of the 4G network.

The 5G roll-out scenarios were informed by the differing speeds of 4G’s roll out across UK regions. The 5G case study analysis drew on a wide range of publicly available data sources and studies to estimate impacts of specific 5G use cases – including DfT Passenger Charter, LGA Revenue Data and HM Treasury Expenditure Analysis. The methodology also drew on official government guidelines such as DfT’s TAG book and case studies such as the Liverpool 5G testbed.

Despite the AI boom dominating headlines, the research found a majority of people believe 5G can improve their day-to-day life more than AI or other innovative technologies such as drones. In addition, it found that they were seeing “green shoots of change” across public services – with booking medical appointments online, cashless payments on public transport and smart meters now the norm.

A key finding was that higher quality remote 5G-enabled check-ups and real-time patient monitoring through internet of things (IoT) technology will reduce the need for GP and hospital visits. This, as an example of a shift to a preventative healthcare approach, could result in £1bn of NHS savings per year – savings which could cover the equivalent of 15,400 new full time nursing posts.

Vodafone added that installing 5G-enabled sensors, which detect problems on railways and trains, could reduce delays and cancellations – saving passengers more than 25 million hours over five years. That time saved for passengers is worth £326m in productivity and wellbeing benefits. 

5G-powered smart city lights, which detect movement to turn on or dim street lighting, could save local councils £700m over the next five years. They could also reduce emissions by one million tonnes of CO2 – the equivalent of replacing 250,000 petrol or diesel cars with electric alternatives.

Yet the survey also revealed that some of the older generation still haven’t made their mind up on 5G. Just under one in three 55 to 64 year olds saw how 5G has the potential to improve their day-to-day life, compared with nearly three-quarters (73%) of younger tech natives (18-to-34 year olds). This, said Vodafone, highlighted the need for more education around its potential.

The findings follow the announcement of the planned combination of Vodafone UK and Three UK, as well as the launch of Vodafone’s 5G Standalone connectivity service, which the company claims will create the most technologically advanced telecommunications network in the UK.

“Our research shows half of the population think that technology could make their lives easier, for the other half it’s up to us to bring to life the difference technologies like 5G Ultra can make to everyday life – the streets we walk down, the trains we travel on and how we look after one another,” said Ahmed Essam, CEO of Vodafone UK.

“Our proposed combination with Three UK will give us the scale to accelerate investment in the UK’s digital future. The launch of Vodafone 5G Ultra gives a taste of what life could be like. Together we can deliver innovation further and faster.”  

As the study was being released, the operator also unveiled Vodafone’s Digital Society Blueprint demonstrating how 5G-enabled technologies are making a big impact in areas of society that people may not see, as well as what more is to come in the future. These included smart electricity substations, location analytics services on UK railways, 5G-connected ambulances, and large file sharing for matters such as MRI scans.

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