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Viewpoint | 27 Jul 2021

5G is ‘the catalyst we need to boost manufacturing and create jobs’

A new Vodafone report argues that superfast 5G mobile technology could be the answer to regenerating the country's manufacturing sector. Here, Business Director Anne Sheehan outlines how.

At Vodafone we believe superfast 5G mobile technology, which is already being adopted in factories around the world, offers a breadth of exciting industrial applications that could transform business operations and markedly increase the UK’s manufacturing productivity.

And nowhere more so than in our industrial heartlands, those small and medium-sized towns in Wales, and in England’s North and Midlands, that powered the country from the Industrial Revolution to the middle of the 20th Century.

In recent decades, many of these communities have faced challenges as the UK economy has shifted from manufacturing towards services. And after years of feeling ignored, they have become the focus of the Government’s professed efforts to “level up” the country.

We believe 5G is the catalyst we need to boost manufacturing and create jobs in these areas.

And they stand to benefit the most. Wales, for example, relies on manufacturing the most as a proportion of its total economic output, and the region with the biggest manufacturing output is the North West.

The 5G dividend

Vodafone research has found that 5G technology could have a cumulative impact on productivity. Not only is 5G significantly faster than 4G, it also offers much greater capacity, enabling many more devices to be connected at the same time. And 5G Mobile Private Networks offer a number of advantages for manufacturers, such as greater security and control over their communications, and ‘network slicing’, which enables secure channels for specific digital operations.

Using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, manufactured goods, machinery and tools can be located and tracked in real time within the factory, increasing efficiency and productivity and preventing equipment loss. 5G also enables predictive maintenance, with hundreds of variables used to model and forecast when repairs will be needed, avoiding costly unscheduled downtime.

Economic benefits

Modelling carried out on our behalf suggests we could add more than £6.3bn a year to the value of UK manufacturing by 2030 if 5G were widely adopted. And, crucially, the benefits would be felt most in the regions most in need of “levelling up”.

The North West of England, for example, would see a cumulative benefit of £5.25bn in productivity over the decade. And alongside the North West, the highest relative increase in manufacturing productivity would be seen in England’s North East, East and West Midlands, and in Wales.

Vodafone has already built 5G Mobile Private Networks for a number of industrial customers, including Ford and Centrica, both in the UK and abroad, and is working with partners to deploy 5G to transform their manufacturing operations.

Ambitious targets

The Government has a big role to play in ensuring 5G fulfils its potential, working in partnership with industry. We are asking for Ministers to set an ambitious target to become a global leader in the use of 5G technology in manufacturing over the next decade.

It should support manufacturers to invest in 5G mobile private networks and 5G technology, and create regional 5G test and innovation centres in the regions outside London and the South East that stand to benefit most from this new technology.

We think the benefits are clear. Only 5G can drive manufacturing productivity improvements quickly enough in these regions; and powering up our manufacturing sector with 5G will also give a boost to the entire UK economy.

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