The research from Vodafone suggests that the efficiencies and productivity gained from the deployment of private 5G networks could transform the UK’s manufacturing industry over the next decade

A new report from Vodafone entitled ‘Powering Up Manufacturing, Levelling Up Britain’, using economic analysis from WPI Economics, suggests that 5G could be a game changer for UK industry, especially for areas digitally ‘left behind’, such as the North West, North East, East and West Midlands, and Wales.
These regions, traditionally the heart of the UK’s manufacturing industry, have seen growth rates slump in recent decades, being outpaced by their more digital counterparts in London and the South East, with manufacturing increasingly being outsourced overseas.
But the Vodafone report suggests 5G could be a game changer for these regions, with the improved efficiency and increased productivity delivered by smart manufacturing processes worth up to £6.3 billion to the UK economy by 2030.
At the heart of this Industry 4.0 transformation is the deployment of private 5G networks, will allow for large quantity of data to be shared from thousands of devices simultaneously in real time. This, in turn, will lead to more accurate and faster decision making, as well as opening the door for automation and machine learning. 
The report highlighted the role that augmented and virtual reality technologies (AR and VR, respectively) will play in this space, allowing various practices to take place in a collaborative virtual space, allowing staff to support those on the factory floor from a remote location. 
None of this information is particularly new for the industry and certainly not for Vodafone themselves, who have been deploying and trialling private 5G networks around Europe in various forms for many months now. In the UK itself, the most notable of these projects is with the automobile manufacturer Ford, with whom they partnered last year to focus on developing electric vehicles at a new smart factory in Essex.
However, Vodafone believes that the government is not doing enough to support private network deployments in the UK and that regulations must be changed if the nation is to make the most of this opportunity. 
“We are only at the beginning of the 5G journey, but through our work with Ford, we know it offers huge potential for the manufacturing sector and beyond,” said Vodafone business director Anne Sheehan. “To realise this potential, we need to all get behind it, from Government and Ofcom creating the right policy and regulatory environment, through to businesses embracing the power of innovation, and of course us as network operators creating this network of the future.”
Commenting on the report, the UK’s minister for Digital Infrastructure said that “the benefits of 5G for improving productivity, efficiency and safety in our manufacturing sector and beyond are clear, and Vodafone’s report is a ringing endorsement of how this revolutionary technology can help us build back better from the pandemic.”
“5G can change the way Britain builds and we’ve sparked a wave of innovation in UK manufacturing through our £200 million 5G trials scheme. We’ve seen driverless vehicles at Nissan’s Sunderland plant, VR at BAM Nutall building sites in Scotland and Vodafone boosting laser-welding robots in Essex,” he added.
Predictions like these, especially those looking so far ahead, should always be taken with a grain of salt, given the myriad of factors that must be considered. That said, the value of 5G for manufacturing is becoming increasingly clear, both in the UK and elsewhere in the world, and it is certainly true that the first adopters will see the largest benefits. 
For a UK economy ravaged by both the pandemic and Brexit, any boost would surely be welcomed.
How will smart manufacturing impact the UK economy? Find out how the operators plan to deliver a more connected manufacturing sector at this year’s live Connected Britain event 
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