5G to deliver £6bn opportunity for smart, resource-efficient UK cities, says O2

The next generation of mobile connectivity, or 5G, will enable councils to generate £2.8bn annually through smart lighting and refuse collection, according to a new report from O2 outlining a £6bn opportunity of the UK economy.

O2’s ‘Value of 5G for cities and communities’ report identified how 5G – meaning fifth generation – connectivity will harvest the potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) to deliver £6bn in productivity savings for the UK economy. According to the report, communities are set to benefit across areas including resource efficiency, transport, data access and energy consumption.

“Of all the ingredients that keep our economy and society moving, arguably top of the list is mobile.” O2’s chief executive Mark Evans said. “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.”

Bundle of benefits

The report predicts that households will save £145 on energy bills through 5G-enabled smart grids, with council tax bills falling by £66 due to smart refuse collections. An additional £236 per household could also be saved on food waste, through the introduction of smart fridges that send “shelfies” of content to consumers.

For transport, car owners could save £1,600 annually in fuel costs, as 5G-proofed energy grids enable an extra 1.3 million electric vehicles (EVs) to source electricity by 2025. Better data management will also reduce time spent in traffic by 10%, providing added benefits for air quality, with commuters able to access street-level data sourced from lamp posts and bus stops to help them plan journeys. Elsewhere, 5G sensors on rail lines will help with predictive maintenance, reclaiming £440m in lost productivity.

Energy savings of £91m can be recognised by the adoption of smart LED street lighting – which could save Europe €2.1bn a year – if the UK mirrors projects underway in Malaga, Santander and Guadalajara. Councils can also save £1.8bn annually through commercial and residential waste collection systems. Combined, councils could save close to £2.8bn annually, according to the report.

O2’s chief operating officer Derek McManus added: “There are more mobile connections in Britain than there are people and the demand for mobile frequency and easier access is only increasing. 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.”

O2’s report arrived in the same week that a new insight paper from RICS found that big data could allow cities to become “sentient”, by utilising smarter resource consumption, automated public services and minimising disruption.

However, the white paper warns of skills gap between the current city planning workforce and new technology. Businesses are encouraged to train staff to understand new digital applications to avoid disruption.

Matt Mace

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