With 5G conspiracy theories prompting a spate of attacks on mobile network infrastructure and essential workers across the UK, a study from mobile network benchmarking firm Global Wireless Solutions (GWS), conducted before the current pandemic, reveals a lack of understanding about the next-generation network which could be dampening excitement and fuelling misconceptions about the new technology.

The findings suggest that while many in the UK are aware of 5G, more effort is required from operators and other key stakeholders to educate the nation on the wide range of benefits that can be expected once the 5G network is fully deployed across the country.

GWS’s latest nationwide business research campaign, designed to test the pulse of British businesses when it comes to next-generation network technologies, polled more than 200 organisations ranging from 100 employees to over 5,000. Additionally, GWS polled over 2,000 UK adults with YouGov, aiming to gain an on-the-ground view of sentiments around mobile network performance amongst UK consumers.

The results indicate a level of indifference around 5G and a lack of urgency from both businesses and consumers when it comes to taking advantage of the emerging network, suggesting that communication around the diversity and power of 5G-enabled applications is not getting through to the public.

Amongst UK businesses, awareness of the future importance of 5G is strong. Despite still being in the early stages of rollout across the UK, just over half (56 per cent) say 5G is already important to their organisation, while more than a quarter (27 per cent) identify that 5G will be important to their business in the future. In parallel, 26 per cent of businesses are also keen to see more 5G offerings from their operator.

However, while many businesses have one eye on a 5G-enabled future, it seems that they are in no great hurry for the benefits that a fully deployed network will bring. Just a fifth (20 per cent) highlight the provision of 5G applications and services as one of their top 3 mobile priorities over the next twelve months – in comparison, more than twice as many emphasise consistent voice call accessibility and quality (46 per cent) and better remote working connectivity (45 per cent) as key priorities. Additionally, fewer than one in ten (9 per cent) companies report complaints about a lack of access to 5G from those within their organisation, far outranked by more traditional mobility complaints such as mobile network coverage issues (39 per cent) and dropped voice calls (28 per cent).

As with businesses, UK consumers are aware that 5G will be important in the future, with over three-quarters (76 per cent) of UK adults saying that they do plan on getting a 5G phone and a majority of those (53 per cent) are expecting to make the switch within the next 3 years. In contrast, just 15 per cent said that they do not ever intend to purchase a 5G-ready phone. But many UK consumers appear unsure as to why they need 5G, with fewer than one in five (19 per cent) agreeing that the speed of the new technology will change the way they use their phones.

A lack of enthusiasm for the new network seems apparent, with two-thirds (67 per cent) saying they will wait for 5G to become the new normal by continuing to use 4G until they are automatically transferred by their operator. Uncertainty about the benefits that 5G will bring could be a factor – almost two in five (39 per cent) do not know whether 5G will improve the quality of mobile service that they receive compared to their experiences on 4G, the same proportion as those who do believe that there will be an improvement.

“It’s certainly a positive for operators that many British firms already recognise the importance of 5G for their future business applications,” suggests Dr Paul Carter, CEO GWS. “Most UK adults are gearing up for 5G mobile connectivity in the near future too, further demonstrating the business case for deployment from both a consumer and enterprise perspective. However, there appears to be ongoing uncertainty amongst businesses and their employees as to what 5G really is and what it could mean for levelling up business capabilities, as well as confusion from the wider public as to whether 5G has actually arrived yet and in what capacity. These sentiments show there is a significant need for a stronger, clearer communications strategy around the huge potential of 5G – particularly at a time when we have become more reliant on network connectivity than ever before.”

“Now is a crucial time for all key stakeholders in the rollout of 5G – including authorities, operators and consumer-facing groups – to reach out to the public to quell common misunderstandings and take a more active role in educating the nation on the tangible, positive ways that 5G will impact people and the communities they engage in. We need to go beyond the fairly limited scope of existing messages around increases in speed to communicate the extent of what 5G could truly mean for both businesses and consumers alike. We need to be giving people much more regular, multi-layered messages around why 5G is not just a step-up in terms of a single factor like network speed, but a real step-change in how we will conduct our lives in terms of well-being, productivity, transportation, lifestyle, availability and costs of resources and services, and much more.”