5G and the Route to Digital Transformation

By Derek McManus, COO 

Two years ago we wanted to show how, through the power of connectivity and digital technology, the public and private sectors could work together to deliver tangible benefits to not only local communities, but local economies too.

So, towards the end of 2015 we ran a three month digital engagement programme in St Helens in Merseyside, in collaboration with the council.  The programme included rolling out improved 4G connectivity, high-speed wifi in the town centre, providing ‘digital makeover’ sessions for local businesses not embracing technology; and running health checks to help digitally engaged businesses use tech better and smarter.

The programme was a flagship initiative for O2 reaching over 42,000 people, with research by Development Economics finding that the measures within the three month pilot period could inject an additional £46.3m in to the St Helens economy by 2020 – representing 10% additional growth compared with the current economic trajectory for the town over that period. It’s a fantastic example of the transformative potential of digital connectivity.

Recently, 5G has been mooted as a next generation technology that will accelerate both transformation and positive change across the UK. Our own research tells us that an effective rollout of 5G connectivity will add over £7 billion a year to the economy by 2026, and that it will promise a far quicker return on investment than fibre broadband.

Consumers and businesses alike will benefit from increased speeds and greater capacity. But whilst 5G has the potential to offer a range of unprecedented benefits – from remote healthcare applications to connected cars and smart cities – these benefits are some way off. And, more importantly, we won’t be able to reap the rewards of these benefits unless we lay the right foundations now.

Our work in St Helen’s demonstrates just how much can be achieved when the public and private sectors work together to achieve a common goal. It requires collective investment and collaboration from both sides, but the results are considerable.

In order for 5G to deliver on the digital transformation it promises, we need to adopt a similar approach. Partnerships are needed between operators, national and local government, enterprise and communities to create a framework that facilitates the efficient and effective deployment of mobile networks. A more supportive planning regime that permits operators to roll out digital infrastructure faster and more cost effectively is also essential.

At O2, we invest more than £2 million every day towards improving our network infrastructure throughout the UK. By working together to accelerate the rollout of digital infrastructure, we can meet the demands of our customers, encourage economic prosperity and prepare the UK – its households and its businesses – for the digital future.