Viewpoint | 13 May 2022

‘The future is bright for this agile challenger’

Vodafone is better placed than ever to be the UK's trusted technology partner, as UK CEO Ahmed Essam explains.

It was a wonderful opportunity to share our exciting Vodafone story at the Enders Analysis conference – ‘Media, Telecoms 2022 & Beyond’ – this week.

Rubbing shoulders with our major competitors and partners, I was able to outline our strategy as an agile, purpose-led converged challenger in the highly competitive UK mobile and broadband market.

While Virgin Media O2, BT’s Openreach and CityFibre compete to build out the UK’s full-fibre network infrastructure, we are in the enviable position of being able to offer the best products to our customers based on the best partnerships. We’re unencumbered by legacy networks and so can offer ‘best-of-breed’ technologies to our customers.

Ahmed Essam (right), Vodafone's UK CEO, in conversastion with Alex Evans from Barclays Investment Banking, at the Enders Analysis 'Media, Telecoms & Beyond' conference on 12 May 2022

Credits: Matt Wall

Credits: Matt Wall
Ahmed Essam (right), Vodafone’s UK CEO, in conversastion with Alex Evans from Barclays Investment Banking, at the Enders Analysis ‘Media, Telecoms & Beyond’ conference on 12 May 2022

Through our partnerships with CityFibre and Openreach we feel confident we can achieve the largest full-fibre footprint in the UK in the not-too-distant future. And we’re open to similar partnerships with other network providers, too. It’s no accident that we’ve been the fastest-growing broadband provider in the UK over the last two years.

The right choice for consumers

But while we in the industry can talk until the cows come home about technology, network infrastructure, regulation and economics, our customers really just care about the quality and value-for-money of the services we offer them.

Customers crave simplicity, convenience, seamless connectivity, and great value for money

Which is why I was really proud to talk about our fantastic Vodafone Together product – mobile and broadband in one convenient great-value package. Not only do customers save on their broadband, they benefit from 30% off every SIM they take. This is good news during a period of rising living costs.

And this agility and flexibility we enjoy has also enabled us to offer new flexible products – such as EVO – to our customers, giving them complete control over how they pay for their device and air-time contracts.

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Some observers ask how we can compete with the streaming content providers – think Netflix, Discovery and so on – but I remind them that we do already offer content packages to our customers thanks to partnerships with the likes of Amazon Prime and Spotify. We know our customers love this kind of content, so we’re always looking for new partners to engage with.

We do offer pay TV services in some of our European operating companies, so there is a possibility we might offer something like that in the UK. It all depends on whether our customers would really benefit and whether we could offer such a service at a competitive price.

I feel strongly that in an increasingly complex digital world, in which we’re using more and more devices in and out of the home, customers crave simplicity, convenience, seamless connectivity, and great value for money. And this is what I believe we’re offering, which is why they are flocking to us in their tens of thousands. Our strategy is working.

Tackling the digital divide

Integral to our strategy is our sense of purpose – our mission to bridge the digital divide. Our everyone connected campaign – we’ve committed to connecting One Million digitally excluded people by the end of 2022 – is fundamental to our business values. We’ve already passed the 250,000 milestone.

Connectivity is an essential these days and we believe no-one should be left behind. This is what I mean when I say we are a purpose-led business. And I firmly believe our customers like to know that we care, too.

Healthy network

It was also great to share with the conference how well our network is coping with the 40% year-on-year increase in data traffic, as people enjoy more on-demand movies and multiplayer games, and they work from home more.

Our 5G network, with its vastly superior capacity, is more than capable of absorbing this extra traffic. And it is also more energy-efficient, so even though the demand on our network is rising fast, our energy usage isn’t.

The right choice for business

So far I’ve only been talking about our consumer customers, but our business customers are equally as important. And standalone 5G is proving transformative for business. Mobile private networks are offering them ultra-fast, secure connectivity they can rely on, enabling more efficient automation in factories, for example.

Another exciting application of standalone 5G is network slicing, whereby we can offer businesses and governments their own dedicated portion of the network – highly secure and highly reliable. This is really important for emergency services, say, or other critical national infrastructure providers. No-one is competing for your slice of the network, which gives you confidence that you will receive a high-quality service at all times.

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Our internet of things (IoT) technologies are also helping businesses reduce their carbon footprints through the application of building management systems, for example, that enable heating and lighting systems to operate more responsively and efficiently.

These technologies are crucial to achieving the Government’s net zero carbon emissions target and its ‘levelling-up’ agenda. In fact, our research has shown that 5G alone could be worth £150bn to the UK economy by 2030, and reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 4% annually in the transport, manufacturing and agriculture sectors – that’s 17 million tonnes of CO2e, equivalent to the entire carbon emissions of the north-east of England.

Regulatory reform

There was a lot of talk at the conference about consolidation in the mobile market – to go down to three major providers rather than four – and whether the regulators would allow this.

While we certainly welcome consolidation, the truth is it’s not a silver bullet. We also need regulatory reform that creates a pro-investment environment for mobile – just as it has done for fixed – to give us more of an incentive to invest in these expensive new networks and technologies that will not only benefit our customers, but the UK economy as a whole.

At the moment it feels like we’re working with 3G regulation in a 5G world. Annual spectrum licence fees are too high; the rules around net neutrality are too restrictive; and we need to be allowed to make a better return on our capital if we’re to build the world-class digital infrastructure our government wants, and the country deserves.

Both Ofcom and DCMS are undertaking reviews of the mobile market, and we will continue to contribute to those in the hope of changing the policy and regulatory environment.

Reasons to be cheerful

So there’s lots to be proud of, lots to be excited about, and I feel the future is bright for Vodafone in the UK. But we couldn’t achieve any of this without our wonderful, hard-working colleagues and our loyal customers who choose to be with us rather than our competitors. We owe you all a huge debt of gratitude.


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