Slow or fast UK 5G Standalone deployment could make £7.4bn difference

Research shows transformative potential of 5G Standalone technology for the UK economy beyond NHS cost savings and shorter travel times

Research from pan-European operator Vodafone has shown the importance of hastening 5G deployment, revealing that expediting the roll-out of 5G Standalone (SA) across the UK could contribute an additional £7.4bn to the economy by 2030, compared with a slower deployment.

The 5G: Building a digital society report combines estimates of the productivity and economic growth benefits of 5G. It draws on a range of studies carried out by WPI Economics 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 roll-out across UK regions. The methodology also draws on official government guidelines, such as the Department for Transport’s TAG book, and case studies such as the Liverpool 5G testbed.

Vodafone noted that 5G Standalone infrastructure has the potential to transform the way people access public services, cut rail journey times and help reduce carbon emissions. Key findings in the report demonstrate how 5G could deliver tangible benefits to people right across the UK.

When compared against a baseline case in which the roll-out of 5G SA broadly matches the roll-out profile of the 4G network in the UK, in terms of overall coverage and distribution of coverage across the country, the study found a slower 5G roll-out would deliver a loss of over £4.6bn by 2030. By contrast, it found an accelerated roll-out of 5G SA infrastructure would deliver an additional £2.8bn to the UK economy by 2030.

Looking at key use cases, the survey noted that higher-quality remote 5G-enabled check-ups and patient monitoring would reduce the need for GP and hospital visits, forecasting a potential £1bn in NHS savings per year. Vodafone also said 5G-powered health and social support would enable patient care to be done remotely. Those in need of care could be supported via high-quality, high-speed video connection, which would allow for more – and higher quality – remote care.

5G standalone infrastructure has the potential to transform the way people access public services, cut rail journey times and help reduce carbon emissions

It added that installing 5G-enabled sensors, which detect problems on railways and trains, would reduce delays and cancellations, saving passengers more than 25 million hours over five years. Vodafone valued the time saved for passengers at £326m in productivity and well-being benefits. This, said the operator, aligns with recent industry findings that the virtual coupling of trains enabled by 5G could provide a 43% reduction in train separation distances, allowing for a marked increase in the number of services offered, without other upgrades to legacy infrastructure having to be considered.

Another use case referenced was 5G-powered smart city lights, which detect movement to turn on or dim street lighting, and which the study suggested 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.

The study also highlighted regional implications, observing that the potential benefits could be particularly pronounced in regions like the South-East and East Midlands which are poised to gain £790m and £310m, respectively, by 2030 with an accelerated roll-out. The South-West and North-West are also set to realise an additional £425m and £235m respectively in terms of economic benefit by 2030 as a result of 5G Standalone.

Indeed, Vodafone stressed that every region surveyed experienced significant economic returns when modelled as a good investment environment, while all are set to lose when benchmarked against a poor investment environment and delayed deployment.

In terms of the types of locations identified in the study, Vodafone recalled a previous research finding that if rural communities had the same 5G coverage as urban areas, 838,000 more people would have access to 5G where none currently exists.

Commenting on the research, Ahmed Essam, CEO of Vodafone UK, said: “Speed matters when it comes to the availability of the most technologically advanced digital networks. Digital technology has the potential to transform the way we live, work and access vital public services. The faster we can make these opportunities available to customers, the greater the overall impact to the UK.”

UK minister for data and digital infrastructure John Whittingdale said: “In our increasingly connected digital world, access to high-speed, reliable connectivity has become an essential part of everyday life. Bringing lightning-fast internet to every corner of the UK will help transform our communities by injecting more than £7bn into our tech-driven economy by the end of the decade.” 

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