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Thirty-five years after Britain’s first-ever mobile phone call was made over Vodafone’s network, 5G is set to revolutionise the way we work, live and travel across the UK. This month, Vodafone opened the door to 5G with Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and London becoming among the first cities in the world to get on board. Later this year, we will be bringing 5G technology to a further 12 towns including Blackpool and Bournemouth.
For most consumers, the no. 1 question asked of 5G is about its speed. But the fifth generation of wireless mobile technology concerns much more than ultra-quick downloads and web pages that are faster than ever to load. If the government can create the most positive possible environment for rollout, the benefits will be felt across society, the economy and the environment.
On the roads, new technology underpinned by 5G will allow vehicles to communicate their exact speed and position in real time. In this way the era of driverless cars becomes a very real possibility. Just one example is platooning, in which a convoy of vehicles drive together and the vehicle at the front dictates the speed. With all members of the convoy automatically matching each other’s speed and braking, carbon emissions could be drastically reduced – especially when the tech gets taken up by trucks and haulage companies.
In our towns and cities, 5G networks will mean millions of smart, connected devices making real-time decisions to improve the way the world works. The same technology will enable digital buildings, which will be cheaper to run and significantly more sustainable. With the help of a remote Building Energy Management (BEM) dashboard, inhabitants could automate energy, water and heating decisions. For example, once a pre-determined number of people have left a site, the system could automatically instruct heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems to adjust their settings.
In our skies, 5G-enabled drones could reduce the time it takes to transport organs and help emergency services respond effectively to accidents. Drone-Powered Business Solutions (DPBS) being developed by Vodafone will also mean that construction sites, railways, roads and other infrastructure projects can be surveyed up to 20 times faster than via ground-based teams. Drones can also be used to track animals, watch for poachers and provide aid when natural disasters strike. And once drones are run on batteries charged with green energy, the substantial amount of carbon emitted from commercial and industrial transportation will be significantly reduced.
As the government commits to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, 5G has the potential to give ministers a major helping hand. But to achieve the potential that 5G offers, we need the infrastructure and a policy framework that enables us to invest in, build, upgrade, run and maintain our network in a much more efficient way and grants access to available and affordable fibre. Ministers must look to create the best conditions for 5G rollout and investment, such as access to street furniture, public sector sites, and a shared rural network. At the same time, the government should use its considerable influence as a procurer of technology to drive innovation in its own supply chains.
In order to reap the environmental rewards from smart buildings, ministers must act to incentivise businesses and homeowners to make use of the new energy-saving technology. And in order to move in the right direction on drones, a robust regulatory framework is needed. The government should take a tough stance on technology that does not measure up when it comes to security concerns while making the most of cellular-connected drone technology which can track, monitor and identify users, keeping people safe in the sky or on the ground.
All of this new technology is set to transform many areas of our everyday lives and the decisions we make in the coming years will dictate the pace and scope of change. The massive strides forward we have already taken are only the start of the journey. We now want to work together with ministers to deliver the required infrastructure, connect the disconnected and achieve the government’s ambition for the UK to be a leader on 5G.
Anne Sheehan is Business Director of Vodafone UK
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