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5G is yet to take the world by storm, however lockdown is igniting a passion for remote working that makes it crucial for the future of work

5G in the UK has not had the easiest of starts. First it was enveloped in the political drama over Huawei’s role in the network, then activists set 5G masts on fire due to false conspiracy theories that it spread Coronavirus. The initial post-lockdown demand for 5G suggests that UK businesses may be starting to fall in love with the network, mostly thanks to the millions of people who are currently home working.

At the beginning of the lockdown, experts warned that the additional demand for bandwidth due to the huge numbers working from home could overburden the UK’s consumer broadband infrastructure. Yet as 8.7 million extra workers began to tap away from their living rooms and kitchens, the network coped better than most had predicted.

In fact, it coped so well that many businesses have done a U-turn on their home working policies and the stigma that once existed with working from home prior to Covid-19 has greatly decreased. The demand for home working has spurred a need for better long-term home working solutions, which could potentially unlock a new window of opportunity for 5G in the UK.

Early indicators suggest that this is already starting to transform, according to Google’s Keyword Planner searches, 5G spiked by 230% between February and April, which is the highest for at least two years. We have also seen sales of 5G devices creep up over the past quarter. Looking at Google’s search data, queries about ‘poor broadband speeds’ increased by approximately 92% between February and April.

When the lockdown was first announced, businesses went into overdrive to set up systems that would allow them to continue operating. Previously, about 5% of the UK’s workforce operated remotely and in future times, working from home and flexible working arrangements are likely to remain both

necessary and desirable, most likely until there is a vaccine for Covid-19.

Vodafone forecasts that 5G will give the UK economy a £150 billion boost over the next decade – partly due to its potential to increase productivity and create efficient work processes. In practical terms today, that translates into super-fast download speeds of just a few seconds and greatly improved latency and accessibility – all of which matter more than most people think when it comes to remote working.

Whether an employee is sharing a home WiFi hub, searching for a signal to tether off 4G or sourcing a third-party connection when on-the-go, connectivity is still one of the biggest challenges of remote working. So 5G is especially necessary as employers increasingly ask their staff to deal with big data or files including imagery and video.

Onecom’s CEO Ben Dowd commented: “As Covid-19 inspires new business models and ways of working, so too will widescale availability of 5G. Right now, most businesses will continue to maximise existing mobile and fixed line infrastructure as their ways of working become increasingly digital.”

History tells us that 5G is likely to do well in the UK, but it will be more evolution than revolution. 4G is already enabling us to work quickly and flexibly, but just as we got frustrated with speeds and features with 3G in the noughties, we will start to demand the responsiveness and applications that 5G offers, when it starts to become more widely available.

Onecom is an independent telecoms provider specialising in mobile, fixed and cloud based services, for small and medium-sized businesses.

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