It’s the technological upgrade we’ve all been waiting for, with headlines ranging from excitement about the advanced capabilities it will offer, through to panic at the new network’s infrastructure. 5G has certainly been a popular buzzword, so where does the UK currently stand in relation to its roll-out? Here are two new projects currently making the news.

Drones Are Helping The Roll-Out

The mobile network operator Vodafone and its supply partner Ericsson are currently launching an ambitious drone programme to facilitate the roll-out of 5G. Using aerial drones in conjunction with Lidar-based 3D technology, the trial aims to quicken network planning and improve site upgrades by using these advanced tools as a means of carrying out vital surveys of the rural and city centre sites which are difficult to reach.

The drones being used by Vodafone are model DJI Mavic Pro 2 UAV, which come with a professional-grade camera with semi-automatic positioning to capture views of every corner of a site. The 3D scanning is handled by Lidar Leica BLK 36, which can capture 360,000 laser points per second to produce a high definition, three-dimensional reconstruction of the site. Now those on the Vodafone team can access the site virtually, at any time, from anywhere in the world.

A traditional site visit involves several people accessing the location, including radio and transmission planners, acquisition agents, structural engineers and site designers. This team would be tasked with data collection and critical assessment of each survey site. By using drone technology, only a single engineer needs to be involved, collecting the data relating to structural conditions and recording line-of-sight measurements from the drone. This information is then shared to the cloud as a digital twin model, which is later used to facilitate remote site meetings and decision making.

The programme has already been put to the test during the last twelve months, as a way to enable more than 70 site visits during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has proved to be an effective way of saving both time and money for Vodafone, as well as reducing carbon emissions and aiding in site safety. Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK’s Chief Network Officer, praised the drone programme, saying “The introduction of new technology to improve our processes has significant benefits for our own operational efficiencies and reducing our carbon footprint, but it also allows us to deliver on our promise to customers faster. The less time which is wasted travelling to sites, the more time can be invested in valuable tasks that improve the digital experience for our customers.”

A New Merger Gets The Go-Ahead

Meanwhile, a merger between Virgin and O2 has been given provisional regulatory approval by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The deal places the two network providers in a stronger position to compete against the current broadband and mobile market leaders BT and EE, who also merged back in 2016.

This latest development indicates that customers will see changes, with Kester Mann, Director of Consumer and Connectivity at CSS Insight saying that we will be continuing “on the UK’s journey toward bundled telecom services. The new company will seek to sell fixed-line and mobile services across both the Virgin and O2 brands, hoping to lock-in customers and drive higher spend. The joint venture will need to dig deep to fund the costly expansion of cable and 5G services throughout the UK and make tough decisions over its future brand direction.”

The CMA concluded that they did not foresee a rise in costs being passed onto customers as a result of the deal, so overall this could well spell good news for users as well as improved network coverage.