News | 22 Sep 2023

Andrea Dona: investment-at-scale needed for a truly Connected Britain

In a standing room-only auditorium at London’s ExCeL centre, Vodafone’s UK Chief Network Officer explained that 5G SA can indeed stretch across the UK - but only with the right environment for investment.

In a standing room-only auditorium at London’s Excel Centre, Vodafone’s UK Chief Network Officer explained that 5G SA can indeed stretch across the UK – but only with the right environment for investment.

Dona noted how countries that introduce new mobile networks the fastest also reap the benefits of them ahead of their neighbours and competitors. Overall, the UK is currently 17th in Europe for the pace of its 5G rollout and 21st for its network experience.

To meet government and national expectations for 5G, approximately £23-25 billon would have to be found to fund the ongoing rollout. The proposed merger between the UK arms of Vodafone and Three would help fill this funding gap, as the combined company would have a big-enough customer base to sustain a countrywide rollout.

Merger of Vodafone UK and Three UK to create one of Europe's leading 5G networks

Vodafone Group and CH Hutchison Group Telecom Holdings Ltd., owner of Three UK, have agreed to combine their UK businesses.

Unlike 5G non-standalone, full 5G SA can provide much more than just faster download speeds. Its increased reliability, customisability and ability to simultaneously connect many more people than older mobile networks can, makes it ideal for various communities and use cases across the country. From providing network coverage across sprawling areas to connecting teeming crowds of people in packed urban conurbations. From providing connectivity customised to the needs of industrial and commercial workplaces to being a viable alternative to full fibre broadband in parts of the country where that fixed line technology isn’t available.

The combined Vodafone-Three entity would be only the third mobile network operator in the UK large enough and capable enough for rolling out such a large scale network, providing valuable competition to the incumbents. The merged company would provide meaningful competition, not only for the benefit of more consumers in more places across the country, but also to the UK’s numerous Mobile Virtual Network Operators (such as ASDA Mobile) who currently face constrained choices in choosing which physical network to work with.

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Dona explained that “currently it’s really difficult to invest economically to increase 5G capacity to give those fibre-like speeds. With more scale, it becomes more attractive and more likely. It’s so important to have a regulatory framework that enables us to do that.”

Dona also touched upon other potential reforms that could help accelerate the countrywide rollout of 5G SA, from reformed wireless spectrum licence fees to training more people with the engineering and programming skills to help do the actual work of planning, building and running the network.

But it was the desire for smoother planning permission processes, with more predictable outcomes, that was at the top of Dona’s wishlist.

“The rollout of 5G is taking 50% longer than we expected because of the whole planning process. We want efficiency, consistency and predictability so that we can work on what is required in terms of permits and documentation so that we can get right to work quickly and so that the customer can benefit.”

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