United Kingdom

Vodafone hails early triumph in race to supply 5G to businesses

Vodafone has hailed an early triumph in the race to supply 5G to businesses after its technology was used in pioneering NHS surgery last week.

Surgeons at Cardiff's Vale hospital in Wales performed an operation to remove colon cancer from a patient using technology that allows surgeons to assist each other remotely - even if they are in different countries.

The so-called augmented reality technology, which was powered by Vodafone's super-fast 5G internet connection, allows the remote surgeon to draw on a live image of the patient on their screen.

Innovation: The so-called augmented reality technology allows the remote surgeon to draw on a live image of the patient on their screen

The surgeon performing the operation can see these guide lines almost in real time on a screen in the operating theatre - enabling the two surgeons to assist each other with complex procedures.

The remote software was developed by British start-up Proximie.

Vodafone head of innovation Danny Kelly told MoS: '5G is a transformative technology in terms of bandwidth, capacity, speed, but it does not deliver transformation into just one industry. We're now looking at every industry.'

Vodafone already has 5G link-ups with blue chip firms including Ford, Lufthansa and Bosch.

The FTSE 100 telecoms giant is targeting healthcare, manufacturing and transport clients as it pushes into offering 5G for businesses - a market forecast to be worth just under £1billion by 2025.

Healthcare is predicted to be the biggest sector, worth £205 million, and is a sector also prized by rival BT.

Vodafone shares remain 9 per cent below their pre-pandemic price after the collapse of travel hit roaming revenues. It is this week expected to post a slight fall in annual underlying profits to €14.4 billion. Analysts expect the dividend to be left unchanged, at 9 euro cents a share.

Telecoms operators began launching 5G services in Britain in 2019 but conspiracy theories claiming it was linked to contracting Covid-19, and lockdowns reducing mobile data usage, have partially overshadowed its rollout.

Kelly said: 'Telecoms companies are migrating to become tech companies. In the past, telcos have been very, very guilty of simply selling products and services into the market, tech companies have to deliver business outcomes.

'[With Proximie] it's the start of our journey and transformation of healthcare in the UK and then we'll look to take this as a model to transform other industries. It's the first area where we're really investing and scaling.'

Vodafone hopes to turn hospitals into 'smart cities' where connected devices communicate with each other.

Earlier this year, car-maker Ford begun a pilot of Vodafone's 5G connectivity at its 'factory of the future' in Essex, using the rapid connectivity to improve the precision and efficiency of its welding.

Kelly said Vodafone had received interest in its 5G services from small firms and local councils as well as blue chip corporates.

He added that its business services would not be reliant on the speed of the rollout of 5G to the public as the connections would be established within a company's premises.

Vodafone shares remain 9 per cent below their pre-pandemic price of 154p after the collapse of travel hit roaming revenues. However, it recently raised €2.3 billion through the float of its Vantage Towers phone masts arm.

The Cardiff trial was backed by a grant from the state-funded UK Research and Innovation body.

Proximie chief executive Dr Nadine Hachach-Haram said: 'Connectivity can make a difference, it can truly save lives. Bringing together a partnership like this means you're transcending geography, time and space and bringing this together for human impact.'

Hachach-Haram said Proximie works in 'low bandwidth' environments – like operations on naval ships – but 5G connections meant detailed images could be reliably relayed.

Hachach-Haram said the pandemic had underscored the effectiveness of remote assisted surgery. 'We were able to bring experts from around the world into an operating room – for example a cardiac case in east London connected to an expert in Washington.

'It was a very stressful time, being in an operating room, isolated, in full PPE, it was difficult being on the front line. Knowing there was the ability to have a colleague who could dial in with you was really important.'

London-based Proximie, founded in 2016, last month raised $38 million from a group of investors including firms in the US and Dubai to aid its expansion in Europe and America.

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