O2 report paints a bright future for 5G

David Murphy

O2 has released a report, The value of 5G for Cities and Communities, which argues that 5G will ‘update the operating system’ of our cities, making them smarter and creating tangible benefits for citizens and local councils – as well as generating £6bn in productivity savings for the UK economy.

Speaking at the launch of the report in London today, O2 CEO Mark Evans said: “Of all the ingredients that keep our economy and society moving, arguably top of the list is mobile. Our report demonstrates how 5G technology, when it arrives, will provide unprecedented benefits for consumers, councils and cities alike. The enhanced connectivity on offer will make a real difference to people’s lives and pockets. However, none of these benefits are assured. We need a high level of collaboration to press ahead with the rollout and to hardwire 5G into the fabric of our cities.”

Joining him at the event, Margot James, Minister for Digital and the Creative Industries said: "We want the UK to be a world leader in 5G, and this report highlights the huge potential we have to get ahead and reap the benefits of this exciting new technology. We're already investing £25m in new testbeds across the UK that will pave the way for our 5G future and our work with industry will be vital to help us achieve our ambitions."

The report predicts that through £145 will be shaved off household energy bills through the introduction of 5G-enabled smart grids that drive dynamic pricing, enable better distribution, and allow consumers to choose where they buy energy.

Households’ council tax bills will be £66 less, if councils pass on the saving created through smart refuse collection. Households will also save an additional £236 by reducing food waste thanks to the introduction of smart fridges, which will send ‘shelfies’ of their contents to consumers’ smartphones, helping them avoid buying un-needed food. It also says that car owners could save an additional £1,600 in annual fuel costs, when an extra 1.3m electric cars are brought onto the roads by 2025 as a result of 5G-proofed energy grids that can withstand mass charging of electric cars.

In addition, the report says, local councils will collectively share an annual £2.8bn of efficiency savings. There will be an £890m reduction in social care costs for those living alone like the elderly, facilitated by 5G telehealth and monitoring. This will allow families and councils to consider alternatives to private residential care or employing carers. The introduction of commercial and residential smart refuse collection will save councils £1.8bn annually. And energy savings of £91m will be facilitated by the adoption of smart LED street lighting, which can be dimmed or brightened remotely as needed.

GP consultations will be streamlined, the report predicts, relieving pressure on the NHS. Replacing just 5 per cent of GP appointments with telehealth video conferencing will reduce physical GP visits by 9.4m per year. This, says O2, will be made possible thanks to the responsiveness and speed of 5G, which will also power improvements in telehealth imaging and data collection.

Waiting times for GP appointments will fall, as 1.1m hours of GP time is freed up, creating productivity gains of £1.3bn through less employee absence during the working day. Meanwhile, 5G will enable the widespread adoption of wearable monitoring devices that will reduce 30-day NHS hospital re-admissions by 30 per cent through aftercare monitoring, saving our cities £463m per year and decreasing overall bed occupancy rates by 6 per cent.

In addition, cities’ transport infrastructure will be improved, reducing commuting time. 5G sensors on railway lines will drive improvements in predictive maintenance, reclaiming an estimated £440m in lost productivity for the UK economy and regaining the average rail commuter 2.6 hours a year. Meanwhile, 5G-enabled road management systems, able to respond seamlessly to traffic volumes, will reduce the time spent stuck in traffic by 10 per cent for the UK’s 5.6m vehicle commuters. Commuters will also be better connected to street-level data via mobile journey planning apps linked to connected street furniture such as lamp posts and bus stops, helping them better plan journeys and avoid congested routes.

At the launch event, O2 today called for greater collaboration between industry, Government, local councils, landlords and developers to ensure Britain can reap the benefits of 5G and maintain its digital leadership.

O2 has been taking steps to pave the way for the rollout of 5G in the UK. Last month, it announced it will partner with AEG to launch a 5G trial at The O2. Its parent company Telefónica also launched its 5G Technological Cities project in January, which will see the Spanish cities of Segovia and Talavera de la Reina converted into 5G living laboratories over the next three years.

“There are more mobile connections in Britain than there are people and the demand for mobile frequency and easier access is only increasing,” said Derek McManus, O2’s chief operating officer. It’s clear from our report that 5G technology will play a vital role in ensuring that all citizens get the mobile service they deserve. But while 5G promises a range of unprecedented benefits, we should be clear that these won’t be achieved without collective investment and collaboration. That means complete alignment from operators, public service providers, local authorities, landlords and technology companies to explore new opportunities for better connectivity and denser coverage.”

You can download the report here

David Murphy writes:
The figures in this O2 report, with huge savings on food, energy bills and transport costs, make a pretty compelling case for 5G. It puts me in mind of those early figures for mobile advertising; it’s the sort of story you want to make a diary note to check back on in 2025, the year the forecasts relate to, to see how accurate – or otherwise – they were.

There is a Methodology section in the report, prepared by Juniper Research on O2’s behalf – “all findings in the report are the responsibility of Juniper Research” – which explains, to a point, how they arrived at the figures, which some may say err on the side of optimism. One interesting line here is that: “Challenges related to infrastructure build-out and spectrum auction costs were not factored into any scenario.” As I say, some may feel the figures err on the side of optimism.

The key point, which, to be fair, O2 acknowledges, is that none of this is a given. It requires collaboration between industry, Government, local councils, landlords and developers. There’s also a great deal of chicken and egg in the sort of smart cities savings the report forecasts. Yes, energy-saving street lighting will save money in the long run, but it requires an upfront capital investment in the first instance and many local authorities may to struggle to get that investment to get the whole thing rolling.

To paraphrase Orange’s marketing tagline of a few years ago, yes, the 5G future looks bright, but it would be a mistake to think it’s assured.