Slow rollout of SA 5G costing SMEs £8.6bn, says Vodafone

The slow rollout of standalone 5G is costing SMEs £8.6 billion per year in potential productivity savings, estimates Vodafone Business.

Vodafone said in its Supercharging Small Businesses report that while the UK remains one of the best countries in which to start and develop a new business, it risks slipping behind other European rivals as the best place for SMEs to grow due to other countries, such as Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland, and Denmark, investing in reliable, superfast 5G connectivity at a faster rate.

According to the study, the UK is on course to be the fifth most attractive place in Europe for SMEs to use technology to grow, trailing only Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the Netherlands. However, the UK could leapfrog all its rivals into second place – behind only Denmark – if it can accelerate the roll out of 5G SA networks which have the potential to deliver vast economic savings to small businesses.

For example, small agricultural businesses could see the average farmworker save over three working weeks of their time by utilising 5G Standalone-enabled technologies – such as soil, weather and equipment monitors – which drive efficiency savings by ensuring that workers can identify and prioritise issues in real-time. Deploying 5G Standalone at speed, and accelerating the development of the technology it enables, would lead to a collective saving of over 37.7 million working hours a year across the sector. This would deliver £112 million in annual productivity savings and empower SMEs to reinvest, driving business growth.

Similarly, more than 2 million employees in the retail sector could save more than 45.3 million working hours a year by deploying 5G SA-enabled technologies, such as IoT stock maintenance systems. These monitor stocktakes and depletion, avoiding laborious manual checks and freeing up workers so they have time to complete other important tasks. Such technology could contribute to productivity savings of £1.85 billion a year.

However, the report cites a limited window of opportunity to act while the quality of digital infrastructure remains a competitive advantage within the global economy.

Nick Gliddon, CEO, Vodafone Business UK, said, "UK SMEs are already some of the most advanced in Europe at integrating digital tools into their businesses and we’d hate to see them get left behind by not having adequate access to best-in class connectivity such as 5G Standalone.

"That’s why we are excited by the further opportunities our merger with Three UK can unlock for this crucial sector of the UK economy. It would allow us to roll out a national 5G Standalone network, at pace, to help SMEs across the country take advantage of leading 5G-enabled technologies such as AI and IoT to help boost their efficiency, productivity and, most importantly, growth."

Emma Jones, CEO of Enterprise Nation, said, "It is essential that the UK seizes the opportunity to improve 5G networks to create a first-class environment for SMEs to grow and scale. Enhancing our digital infrastructure can create critical competitive advantages and productivity savings for SMEs, ensuring that the UK stays ahead of the regional competition."

Michelle Donelan MP, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, said, "As this report rightly recognises, there is huge potential for businesses across the economy to benefit from advances in technology like 5G. This was a major theme of our Wireless Infrastructure Strategy published last year. As this report shows, the UK is one of the best places for small businesses to use technology to grow, and we want to use 5G connectivity as a springboard for that."

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