5G for the many, not the few

Amid all the noise and confusion around the advent of 5G, three things should not be overlooked. Innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should be involved in the design and delivery of 5G networks. These networks should cover all parts of the UK, not just the main cities. And tried-and-tested secure technologies such as wifi will absolutely be part of these networks.

But first some background. I am chief executive of IntechnologyWiFi (Smart Cities), a provider of robust, next-generation digital infrastructure and services, and committed investor in towns and cities across the UK. We started in Harrogate, North Yorkshire in 2013 as a provider of free public wifi to boost digital inclusion in locations as diverse as Coventry, Edinburgh, Southend, Watford, Wetherby and Windsor. We have since developed the tools to provide smart city services to local authorities across the UK for the benefit of citizens and businesses alike.

Our parent company, Intechnology, has a long track record of producing commercially successful innovations, including Planet Online, the UK’s first viable business internet service provider, Sports Internet Group, the internet-based content business sold to Sky, Freeserve, the UK’s first free consumer internet service provider, and IMS, the trusted host of key national infrastructure such as the NHS Spine.

Through our work in smart city services, we have learnt how important it is to get the building blocks in place if you want to create strong, feature-rich and scalable digital infrastructure. We agree with Colin Willcock, chairman of Europe’s industry association 5G IA, who says: “It is not about who deploys first; it’s about who deploys correctly.” Only then will the UK be able to realise the full benefits of 5G in industries like automotive, healthcare and media as well as in public services such as social care and social housing.

In Coventry, the UK’s next City of Culture, we have built one of the country’s largest city-wide internet of things networks. We are working on pilots with the city council to improve air quality, waste management and vermin control. The building blocks are in place.

The first level is the public platform. This is safe and secure, but also open and accessible. Once installed, everyone in the city centre becomes digitally enabled. At the second level is the data, where users store, view, control and share information, in a way compliant with the EU General Data Protection Regulation. At the third level is the service interoperability with open interfaces, enabling collaborative working across many different partner organisations. This is how we transform public services.

In Wetherby, a market town on the outskirts of Leeds that dates back to the Domesday Book, we have just installed one of the fastest wireless networks in the UK in partnership with the local council. This is bringing a stream of benefits to residents, visitors and local businesses. By the definition of emerging industry standards on speed, Wetherby would qualify as having a 5G-equivalent network. Market traders in the historic town square are now able to benefit from new technologies such as cashless payments. We’re proud to be delivering networks that meet the new 5G standards.

According to Margot James, minister for digital: “5G has the potential to revolutionise every aspect of our lives, from increasing productivity to improving quality of life.” We know from experience that she is right. We just need to make sure that all the UK benefits from 5G, and not just big business and main cities at the expense of everyone else.

New research from tech incubator Public found that technology SMEs are being routinely shut out of bidding processes, with procurement tending to favour insiders and incumbents. Innovative SMEs like ours should have the chance to compete fairly and squarely for contracts to design and deliver 5G networks, services and applications. It will not be in anyone’s interests if big business is allowed to swing in and cherry-pick the easy revenues from 5G and leave vast swathes of the UK without access to the new opportunities that will emerge from these exciting new technologies.

For more information please visit  www.intechnologywifi.com