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Connecting Britain – The path to 5G

Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at O2, discussed the 5G rollout, its capability and relevance for businesses of all sizes at October’s O2 Blue Door Conference.

How has O2 prepared for 5G?

A good starting point is to remember that the 5G rollout isn’t something that’s happened overnight. We’ve been working on our 5G plans for several years now, and have been conducting trials throughout 2018 and 2019.

Our aim at O2 is to make 5G relevant, not just for the UK economy but for every UK business, regardless of size. We are focusing on four priorities:

  1. Coverage – Our 5G rollout will be live across 20 towns and cities by the end of 2019, and in 50 by summer 2020.
  2. Need – We are focusing our rollout where our customers need it most, like transport hubs and entertainment venues.
  3. Collaboration – We are working with our business partners to understand the ways that businesses will benefit from 5G.
  4. Innovation – We are creating 5G innovation spaces across the country, to make next generation 5G test environments accessible to businesses of all sizes.

Of these, collaboration is arguably the most important. It’s what will drive innovation, provide the use cases that 5G will enable and help us to deliver service where it matters.

In order to maximise the potential of 5G, we believe networks need to collaborate. That’s why O2 is working in partnership with organisations, Government, our business partners and world-leading experts in network technologies. You may have read in the news this month about the Shared Rural Network (SRN), which should result in the four principal mobile operators transforming their rural networks into a single infrastructure that we will all share and invest in its expansion. It will increase all-operator geographic coverage from the current level of 67% to 92%, Partial Not Spots will almost all disappear and over 3,700sq miles of the UK will for the first time be covered by 4G.

As well as the partnerships we have formed with businesses, O2 is proud of our network sharing deal with Vodafone that has been in place for more than a decade now and will enable us to roll out our 5G network more quickly and with less environmental impact.

Collaboration has also helped us to focus on what businesses need the technology to be able to do, the solutions for the challenges they face, rather than focusing simply on what 5G can do.

We have trialed technology such as Massive MIMO (Multiple-input multiple-output) with great success. Innovative technologies like Massive MIMO can help us to deliver enormous capacity uplifts in areas where there’s high demand. If you haven’t come across the term MIMO before, think of it as a wireless network that allows the transmitting and receiving of more than one data signal simultaneously over the same radio channel.

We have also developed our own testbed at the O2 in North Greenwich, and have been running 5G trials here for over a year; gaining insights both from a consumer and a business perspective, as to how they could utilise 5G technology such as Mobile Edge Computing.

At the start of 2019 we reached out to every company in the FTSE 100 to ask them about the technology challenges they face and to invite them to take part in O2’s 5G testbed trials. As you will have seen in the news, the trials were all building up to the launch of our 5G service in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds and London – with 14 other towns and cities to follow this year.

What will 5G bring?

It’s no exaggeration to say that 5G will help to boost and strengthen the UK economy. Mobile is one of the UK’s most powerful opportunities to do this and improve people’s lives. 5G will change the way our society functions.

5G’s reliability and low latency will enable mobile in use cases not previously possible, like remote medical procedures, or O2’s work on its Smart Ambulance trial to revolutionise patient treatment and reduce hospital numbers.

5G’s speed is important, of course, but only in terms of being able to deliver what you need. For example in Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) applications, high capacity is important, not just because of the speed it provides, but also in making sure you get sufficient bandwidth..

5G transformation in detail

We’d like to show you how 5G can transform your business and bring new value to what you do and how you do it. Click here to download our white paper, ‘5G: A CTO’s guide to the new network’.

Want to find out more about what happened at the O2 Blue Door Conference 2019? Click here.


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