Vodafone UK is playing up the transformative potential of 5G in an effort to convince the public and regulators that it should be allowed to merge with Three.

According to a survey it published on Wednesday, over half of UK adults reckon 5G will benefit their daily lives more than other headline-hogging innovations like AI and drones. Healthcare, utilities and railways top the list of sectors that respondents identified as having the most to gain from fast, reliable 5G connectivity. Unsurprisingly, Vodafone noted, these are also the areas people have been most frustrated with in the last 12 months.

Given that the announcement makes multiple references to Voda’s proposed merger with Three, this survey doesn’t even qualify as a thinly-veiled lobbying effort. The veil, if there ever was one, is long gone. It is a veil-free zone.

For example, Vodafone CEO Ahmed Essam highlighted the recent commercial launch of the telco’s 5G standalone (SA) network, dubbed ‘5G Ultra’, and promises to do even better in combination with Three.

“Our proposed combination with Three UK will give us the scale to accelerate investment in the UK’s digital future,” he said in a statement. “The launch of Vodafone 5G Ultra gives a taste of what life could be like. Together, we can deliver innovation further and faster.”

To give a more full-bodied and tantalising taste of this possible future, Voda shared some economic models it commissioned from WPI Economics.

In the healthcare sector, 5G could enable remote check-ups and real-time patient monitoring with IoT devices, reducing the burden on GPs and hospitals. Shifting the balance more towards preventative healthcare could save the National Health Service (NHS) £1 billion per year.

For railways, sensors connected to 5G networks have the potential to improve track maintenance, leading to fewer delays and cancellations. For passengers, that could equate to an extra 25 million productive hours over 5 years, while train operators could save £20 million in compensation payments over the same period. Not only that, but faster comms between train drivers and network controllers could allow for distances between trains to be reduced by up to 43 percent, freeing up capacity to run more services and reduce overcrowding.

WPI’s economic model also takes a look at smart street lighting. Real-time monitoring could reduce energy consumption, saving councils £700 million over five years, and reducing CO2 emissions by a million tonnes, equivalent to 250,000 petrol or diesel cars.

When Voda and Three announced plans to merge, they said the tie-up will enable them to invest £11 billion over the next 10 years, and cover 99 percent of the population with 5G SA by 2034. They also claimed their merger will deliver a £5 billion-a-year boost to the UK economy by 2030.

Surveys like the one published on Wednesday provide an additional public interest argument in favour of the deal.

As Telecoms.com has reported previously, there has been less emphasis recently from the government and Ofcom about the quantity of MNOs, which is encouraging for Voda and Three.

However, if Threedafone is to become a reality, then spectrum is the elephant in the room, one that is far more important to address than offering visions of a hypothetical digital utopia.

Based on Ofcom’s figures (PDF), the combined company would have more than 525 MHz of exclusive-use spectrum, eclipsing EE, which is currently the UK’s single-biggest spectrum holder at 370 MHz. Voda and Three’s combined holdings – equivalent to more than 45 percent of the UK’s sub-6-GHz mobile spectrum – would include 40 MHz of contiguous 1400-MHz spectrum, 2x 20.8 MHz of contiguous 1800-MHz spectrum, and 90 MHz of contiguous 3.4-3.8-GHz spectrum.

When Orange and T-Mobile’s UK merger was approved in 2010, it was conditional on the divestment of some of their combined 1800-MHz spectrum, which incidentally was eventually purchased by Three in 2012.

When Three tried unsuccessfully to acquire O2 in 2015, the two pledged to sell spectrum to Sky and Virgin Media to help win over the UK and EU’s antitrust watchdogs.

Led by industry groups like the GSMA and CTIA, operators themselves frequently cite access to spectrum as one of the most important determining factors when it comes to delivering the promise of technologies like 5G.

As such, regardless of any survey results Vodafone and Three can produce, the success or otherwise of their merger is likely to hinge on their willingness to help Ofcom rebalance the distribution of spectrum among their rivals.

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