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Viewpoint | 30 Oct 2020

Creating the future: Why we need to keep investing in our network

Scott Petty, Chief Technology Officer, Vodafone UK, explains why investing in Vodafone's network is so important if we're to create the digitally connected future many want.

At Vodafone, we watch our mobile network stats like a hawk.

What are the services our customers are using most? What time is our network at its busiest? How much does the amount of data our customers use change over time?

These stats define our plan for how much we invest in our network. And as a healthy digital economy is crucial to our working and social lives, we know we need to keep investing to create a better, more connected future for all.

I’ve seen phenomenal growth in mobile network data usage over the last 20-plus years. From a handful of devices getting connection with a few kilobits per second, to customers carrying multiple connected products and downloading 4K movies at hundreds of megabits per second.

But while this growth has been impressive, it’s nothing to what is coming.

What’s possible for our customers looks like magic. But it’s not. It’s brilliant engineering and the result of constant investment

I’ve never seen accelerating growth quite like the numbers we’re seeing right now. Our data usage figures are rising week on week, and when 5G starts to shift from early adopters to the mainstream, this growth will only accelerate.

This means we’re in a constant programme of improvement, upgrading capacity on existing sites, adding new sites, deploying 5G for more bandwidth, and optimising our network.

When you add in the government-imposed requirement to change suppliers, and the drive to minimise the environmental impact of our network, the investment challenge is significant.

No compromise

The mobile industry is like no other in the way it demands constant investment, simply to maintain the status quo.

Customers expect a data connection that always gives them what they want, and they don’t want to compromise. And to ensure the experience is constantly improving in line with the way we use connectivity, investments must not just continue but increase.

A recent report by McKinsey suggests the total cost of mobile access networks could increase by up to 300% over the next five years to compensate for data growth and 5G deployment.

London's Best 5G digital billboard and bus

Credits: Vodafone

5G is set to bring about radical change not only for consumers but for businesses and government organisations, too. It will power remote GP appointments, augmented reality services when you’re out and about, fully integrated transport systems featuring driverless cars, remotely assisted surgery, and a host of other Internet of Things applications we haven’t even dreamt of yet.

All of these new services will be underpinned by the network, further incentivising Vodafone to invest as we strive to support this exciting future.

Rethinking the network

There is no sign of these trends changing, especially with the recent launch of brand new 5G-capable iPhones.

Not only are we consuming vastly more data, the network itself is becoming more complex. The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically altered how we work and socialise, which has forced us to rethink how we deploy and manage a telecoms network. New layers have to be built into the network strategy to ensure greater security and resilience everywhere.

The network delivered what our customers wanted prior to the shift in behaviour, and is performing excellently under the new dynamic. But as this behaviour now looks to be a permanent trend we need additional investment to ensure we deliver the connectivity experience that people want and deserve, however they choose to work and play.

It’s testament to our success that people now take for granted what they can do on a smartphone or smartwatch or via their home Wi-Fi. It’s become the norm to have content and communication with anything and anyone, anywhere.

We still think it’s amazing to be enabling such incredible connected experiences every day. What’s possible for our customers looks like magic.

But it’s not. It’s brilliant engineering and the result of constant investment.

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