All around the world, the roll-out of 5G faces significant challenges: cost, technical issues, accountability, local objections, even conspiracy theories.
I recently contributed to a very interesting virtual conference at this year’s Connected Britain, where we examined the Government’s digital strategy and the role of 5G technology, the contribution industry can make and how we can bring all the stakeholders together to deliver the right outcomes for everyone. Let me take this opportunity to expand on my thinking around this important subject.
In my view, it’s imperative that we tackle our 5G challenges head-on, and the key to this is the relationship between Government and industry. In a nutshell, Government needs to change its approach and work more closely with industry to ensure that 5G technologies are rapidly monetised.
With so much talk of 5G, its benefits and its place at the centre of the UK’s digital strategy, it can seem odd that monetisation is an issue. The challenge is that, as far as 5G is concerned, it’s simply a new form of fast connectivity. So it isn’t going to make money itself. Instead, it’s the way that it will enable a plethora of real-time applications (apps) that will help to drive the UK’s digital strategy. Being able to transmit huge amounts of data in realtime is fundamental to everything from autonomous vehicles to our new-found reliance on video conferencing and remote working.
This is where the money is – and any approach to monetisation needs to reflect this. And this is why I think we need change.
Traditionally, new roll-outs of this nature have been led by Government and academia, with industry left on the outside, looking in. We can’t afford to do that with 5G. Roll-out must be delivered by an industry-led collaboration with Government and academia, in which each partner focuses on what they’re best at.
We need Government to set the legislative framework, provide the necessary financial support and ensure that roll-out is implemented as efficiently and effectively as possible; industry to identify the opportunities and scenarios where 5G can be best implemented; and academia to drive forward innovation at all levels. This is how the expertise, the creativity and the business acumen should work together.
To be fair, there have been some attempts to work differently already. For example, we’ve seen how Government departments and agencies have organised internet-related competitions and “catapults” to allocate funding to the private sector. With the best will in the world, however, some of these can be quite long-winded and complicated, mainly because they start from a premise that has been established by civil servants and academics rather than business practitioners.
In the new world of 5G, innovation will come from businesses working hand-in-glove with Government and academia.
So how do I think we need to change?
I see Government prioritising connectivity and creating an environment in which academics and enterprises can work together to create the apps and deliver the resulting productivity.
And instead of competitions and catapults, I would like to see a voucher system funding large and small enterprises to get them involved in developing apps that will capitalise on the roll-out of 5G.
I’d also like to see a new emphasis on funding enterprises based on an industry-led approach. This is already happening in Wales, where the Welsh Assembly, two local authorities, Cardiff and Bristol universities, Cisco and two innovative SMEs are all working together to solve the challenge of 5G roll-out for rural communities,
This ticks so many boxes for me, not least the involvement of smaller businesses as, in my experience, they’re agile and flexible and they bring some of the most innovative thinking to the table.
It’s this collaborative approach that we’re going to need if we’re going to make 5G a success.
There’s no doubt that 5G will enable some of the greatest areas of innovation this country has seen for a very long time. Above the network/technology layer, innovations around augmented reality and virtual reality will help to drive a new breed of applications for the automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, tourism and gaming industries.
But to make it work, we’re going to need an ecosystem to pull Government, academia and enterprise together. And by enterprise I mean large R&D-type companies, such as Capita and BT, and also the smaller entrepreneurial companies that are frequently capable of innovating more quickly.
In conclusion, my message to Government and regulators is simple: the private sector can help you to deliver 5G. We’re your allies and your partners in this task.
We stand ready to help Government integrate all the different elements required to ensure a successful adoption of 5G. Let’s do it.