Smart sports and 'talking’ trainers: how 5G Standalone will supercharge the things the UK loves most

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Vodafone Nicki Lyons
Nicki Lyons

Nicki is Chief Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Officer at Vodafone UK. She’s responsible for external communications, government and regulatory affairs, and sustainable business. Before this, she worked in senior roles at Walgreen Boots Alliance, Unilever, PepsiCo, in UK government and in international development.

We are on the precipice of an exciting period for technology. This has become even more apparent in the first few months of 2024 alone where we’ve seen new innovations that will enhance all our futures. From a GyroGlove which cancels out hand tremors caused by Parkinson’s at CES to our very own Vodafone HyperRealityHub paving the way for extended reality glasses at MWC. 

However, despite the great potential of technologies of the future, many people are of the mind that it could be decades before we feel their impact in our day-to-day lives. Excitingly, that’s not the case. 

By fully utilising technology that’s available now, change can come sooner than people think. A key driver of this will be 5G Standalone (5G SA). 

Although we’ve been talking about 5G for a long time in the UK, we’re yet to experience its true, game-changing potential. That’s because current 5G services rely partly on 4G technology, whereas a 5G SA network – the next iteration and the most technologically advanced network available today – is a completely upgraded solution. 

This means it can simultaneously connect ten times as many devices as the current network; react faster than the human brain; and provide instant connectivity that lets people do what they want to do on multiple devices, in real time.  

We were the first company to launch a fully Standalone 5G network last year in locations like London, Glasgow and Cardiff. If used at scale, 5G SA would unlock things in everyday lives that aren’t possible today.

To build a picture of exactly what this would look like, we recently partnered with leading futurist Andrew Grill. Together, we predicted how 5G SA could enhance the experiences we love most in the UK – from sport and shopping to TV and gaming – in the next five to seven years.  

5G SA will boost the beautiful game

Vodafone 5G Standalone

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The use of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology is a contentious issue in football. Sports fans often feel frustrated when they can’t understand the referee’s decision based on what they’re seeing in their seat, in the stadium or at home. Was a pass really offside and was that tackle a foul? By utilising 5G SA-enabled technologies fans will get closer to the action. 

Andrew Grill predicts that 5G SA-enabled smart ball technology, sensors and microchips in players’ boots and on the pitch will gather real-time, highly accurate data on where the ball landed or pass was played. Coupled with footage from multiple live feed angles, shot from robotic agile cameras, it will provide both the referee and fans with a completely accurate view of the game and potentially remove the need for VAR altogether. 

Fans anywhere in the world will be able to access these robotic 5G-enabled cameras on the pitch from their smart phones, bringing fans closer to the players and the game they love. 

Crucially, fans won’t have to worry about lagging video streams or poor connectivity in a busy stadium, thanks to ‘network slicing’, only available on 5G SA. This will allow organisers to have a dedicated ‘slice’ of the network ring-fenced specifically for that game. It means the network has more capacity to keep fans connected to each other and to these technologies. 

Talking trainers and cardigans will help us find new styles

Vodafone 5G Standalone

(Image credit: Vodafone)

Most people are familiar with wearable technology like smart watches and fitness trackers. However, with 5G SA this technology could be taken to the next level and help us find new styles. 

Many of us will have passed a stranger in the street and thought ‘I wish I knew where they got their outfit’. Enabled by 5G SA, IoT and big data, tiny microchips (or ‘chiplets’, smaller than a 1 pence coin) installed in people’s clothing and shoes will hold data on individuals’ preferences, budget and lifestyle and provide information on what similar shoppers are wearing.

Shoppers will be collecting data from each other as they walk past and get recommendations on trends to try via their personal AI style guide. People could have their perfect outfit at their fingertips. 

Delivering 5G SA up and down the UK

These predictions make the exciting potential of 5G SA clear. It will, in the not-too-distant-future, help supercharge the hobbies and past times that enrich our lives. What is most exciting is that 5G SA is not a technology of the future; it’s here now. 

However, all these innovations will only be possible if this 5G SA network is introduced and used at scale. That takes substantial investment and is where Vodafone UK’s proposed merger with Three UK comes in. Together, we want to accelerate delivery of 5G SA in the UK to make this future a reality. As a combined business we have committed to investing £11 billion over the next decade, which would enable us to deliver 5G SA to 99% of the UK population by 2034. 

From the football fan in Newcastle to the fashion-lover in Cornwall, we want everyone to experience the transformative potential of 5G Standalone and enjoy these unforgettable experiences, as soon as possible.