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5G set to ‘update the operating system of our cities’ and enable huge savings. Really?

‘The Value of 5G for Cities and Communities’ report predicts how 5G might drive savings for both individual households and councils. Speaking at the launch of the report in London, 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.”

According to the findings, the enhanced connectivity that 5G brings is set to deliver a veritable bonanza of savings, including £450 a year for each household. As if that’s not enough, this is broken down into detailed estimates: £145 energy bill saving brought about by 5G-enabled smart grids that drive dynamic pricing; £66 off council tax bills due to smart refuse collection; and, a reduction of £236 on food bills enabled by smart fridges.

Better still, there’s an additional £1,600 saving for car owners in annual fuel costs as a result of 5G-proofed energy grids that can withstand mass charging of electric cars. Goodness!

Local councils can also look forward to sharing a cumulative annual saving of £2.8 billion, it says, comprising: an £890 million reduction in social care costs for those living alone like the elderly, facilitated by 5G telehealth and monitoring; residential smart refuse collection, which will save councils £1.8 billion and energy savings of £91 million, facilitated by the adoption of smart LED street lighting. This sounds a tad optimistic, but let’s see.

But it doesn’t stop there! The introduction of 5G will bring further benefits, according to the report. For example, replacing just 5% of GP appointments would reduce physical visits by 4 million a year, which would streamline GP consultations and relieve pressure on the NHS. This will be made possible thanks to the responsiveness and speed of 5G, which will also power improvements in telehealth imaging and data collection, it says.

In addition, this would reduce waiting times for GP appointments, freeing up 1 million hours of GP time, in turn creating productivity gains of £1.3 billion through less employee absence during the working day.

Meanwhile, 5G-enabled remote monitoring devices are set to reduce readmissions for aftercare by 30%, creating savings of £463 million per year and decreasing bed occupancy rates by 6%.

Cities’ transport infrastructure will also be improved, the report continues, reducing commuting time by an average of 2.6 hours a year per commuter, and so reclaiming an estimated £440 million in lost productivity for the UK economy. 5G-enabled road management systems, able to respond seamlessly to traffic volumes, will reduce the time spent stuck in traffic by 10% for the UK’s 5.6 million vehicle commuters.

While there is certainly value in exploring some of the potential benefits and use cases for 5G, we view this as a somewhat simplistic and ‘rose-tinted’ report, which is clearly not based on concrete evidence.

However, it does hint at the widespread opportunity for operators if they can move to 5G quickly and efficiently, and collaborate with the necessary parties in order to ensure they get it right first time around. It also gives operators, still contemplating use cases for 5G, a glimpse of what might be possible. Frankly, we’re sceptical – it all sounds a bit “sunny uplands”, but it’s clear that there is the potential for savings to be made – whether of the magnitude predicted or somewhat more marginal, only time will tell.

Meanwhile, there’s one thing we can predict with certainty: operators searching for a 5G business case can be expected to follow O2’s example, and so we anticipate a flurry of such research, pointing to the benefits of 5G – all with the proviso “so long as the other stakeholders step into line”.