By Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer
When I came into the role as Chief Technology Officer at the newly created Virgin Media O2 earlier this year, I took on responsibility for a mobile network at a fascinating time in its evolution. A network that had just secured a significant amount of spectrum that would revolutionise our 5G rollout, and with an unrivalled portfolio of tests & trials innovation that will hopefully have positive repercussions on society for years to come.
We recently marked a huge milestone in that innovation cycle. October 17th was officially two years since O2 switched on its 5G network for the very first time.
In an industry cluttered with confusing claims, coverage wars and sensationalist stunts, we’ve cut through the noise with an approach centred purely on the customer. I’m incredibly proud to be part of a network that’s won, ‘Best Network for Coverage’ at the Uswitch Broadband and Mobile awards four years in a row; was named ‘Most Reliable Network’ by GWS for the third year in a row; and just last month we took, ‘Network of the Year’ at the Mobile Industry Awards*.
Right from its launch in 2019, a pragmatic but still ambitious approach has been at the heart of our 5G strategy. Our test and trials innovation programme has focused on projects that can have a transformative effect for society, covering areas such as smart health, transport, utilities, manufacturing and live experiences.
Examples of this include trialling Medical Delivery Drones and Smart Ambulances; supporting Connected Autonomous Vehicle projects; developing 5G tools to help smart factories and utility companies; and working to save lives alongside emergency first responders with tethered drones.
We’re also relentlessly exploring new ways we can enhance live experiences using 5G-led innovations. Through the DCMS-backed 5G Festival and VISTA programmes we’re exploring ways to layer 5G technologies onto the stadium experience to generate more immersive and interactive experiences for fans in venue and at home, as well as opportunities for producers, broadcasters and performers.
Even though we’ve achieved all this in two years, we’re still hungry for more and have continued to upgrade our network and support business customers, pioneering the latest technologies to boost productivity and efficiency. Collaborating with partners has helped us drive forward the Open-RAN ecosystem, 5G Private Networks and develop the benefits of Mobile Edge Computing, and we’ve also become the first MNO to utilise Neutral Host In-Building Solutions. Put simply, the network puts real, tangible technology in the hands of our customers – both business and consumer.
And as with everything we do, sustainability is at the core of our award winning network. It’s powered by 100% renewable electricity where we control the bill, and we’ve further lowered consumption with smart sensors, intuitive software and free air cooling. In turn, we’re now 82% more energy efficient than we were in 2015, as we head towards to Net Zero by 2025.
We know a connected world is a decarbonised world – and 5G is the future of connectivity. From flexible working and the digital workplace to the efficiencies driven by the Internet of Things, we’ve seen clearly that advancements in connectivity and digital technology can help businesses to decarbonise.
Despite all of these achievements, I still feel that we’ve only just begun. We’re committed to bringing 5G to over half of the UK’s population in 2023, and have already started to deploy our low-band spectrum to strengthen the experience of our network across the country and especially indoors. We’ve just added Samsung into our diverse portfolio of network vendors and also recently announced that we’re working with Ericsson to build our 5G standalone core network.
Finally, we also must not forget the importance of our 4G network – the backbone of connectivity around the country – and the vital work our engineers do to maintain and upgrade infrastructure to keep us all connected. Since the start of the year we’ve upgraded around 85,000 postcodes with 4G capacity and will continue to support the Shared Rural Network.
Virgin Media O2 is the leading converged challenger in the UK market, with the fastest broadband network and most reliable mobile network which is something that gives me great pride, as well as responsibility. The future is incredibly exciting, particularly when combining the power of our expanding fibre network and developing 5G network – offering a seamless and converged connectivity landscape for customers.
We’ve always said that our 5G rollout is a journey, not a race. And what a journey it’s been so far. I can’t wait to see what the next two years will bring.