Blog Type, IPT Blog | January 2017

The Importance of 5G to Driving the UK Economy

Words by Professor Mark Skilton, Warwick Business School

The recent January 2017 House of Commons Breakfast event exploring how 5G will drive the UK economy was a timely occurrence having seen the FCCG report on UK Strategy and plan for 5G & Digitisation driving economic growth and productivity. 

5G, a Vision Critical to the Near Future of UK plc

Superfast 5G level telecoms infrastructure is central to the Industrial Strategy that the UK government have been championing and announced in ten pillars of combined strategy.  It is no surprise that telecoms are part of the third pillar to upgrade infrastructure standards of performance needed for digital enablement of industry across all sectors. 

5G is Different, “we are not in Kanas anymore”

5G performance and architecture is a fundamentally different technology and capabilities to 4G and all other previous networks. With 1 to 10 Gigabytes per second bandwidth; 1 millisecond latency and supporting a density of 100 or more devices in any given room size location, it is truly instant, always-on, and able to download the equivalent of a whole movie in a few seconds. This is the new competitive level of performance for the 21st century economy. It enables real-time mission critical rapid response such as connected self-driving cars to enabling the Internet of things sensors and mobile devices that will drive connected buildings, smart cities, savings energy, enabled new skills and services, changing how markets and work gets done.

5G will facilitate economic transactions, market access and value to new levels; whereas today it is a social media, media entertainment, online payments and mobile apps driving internet traffic expansion, in just five to ten years we will see common place connected appliances, homes , transport, places of work and consumer items from food, apparel, assets, consumption and increasing complex services from health, legal, advisory and many others all connected into an intelligent internet web. 5G will also enable the capture and digitizing “human knowledge” and “smart automation” with artificial intelligence and machine learning connected into everything through the superfast 5G to response in real-time to needs, wants and events.

5G performance integration to enable the “real-time society” will have profound changes in the way value and intelligence is created, exchanged and in the cost of supply; new cyber security, privacy and ethics issues and controls; new employment and education STEM skills needs resulting in disruption of industries and countries that will be defined by their digital competency and propensity.  

How does the UK  bring this about? How do we get ready?

The breakfast session raised questions over how 5G would make money for organisations and drive price competition? What were the necessary skills for installing and using 5G technology? Other questions were raised on how local and government policy might need to evolve to encourage investment and upgrading of existing telecoms sites for better coverage across urban and rural areas?  Regulators and government needed to promote policy changes to support access to public areas to push road, building coverage as well as opening up spectrum for 5G that enable rapid build and testing of  new 5G technology into demonstrated reality. 

UK in a good position to globally lead but other countries catching up

Other counties are already ahead but the UK is well placed to build in its leadership in digital economy adoption and world class telecoms research and companies. The 2017 Winter Olympic in South Korea 2018 and the 2020 Tokyo Summer Games are already being lined up by Samsung and others are 5G showcases, just one or two years away. 

Overall the 5G move in the UK will not happen without strategic leadership from government, industry and enlighten academic research. It is a rapidly moving, complex and expensive endeavor that will need collaboration with other leading cities and countries to leverage economies of scale and accelerate solutions into practice.

Need for Test-beds, Standards and Guidelines

The FCCG report 5G strategy in January 2017 recommended among other key tasks to setup test-beds and pilots to promote rapid evaluation and development of working 5G initiatives in the UK economy. Standards and guideline will be needed by local councils as well as industry and vendors who are making investment decisions now for the next decade.

Guidelines such as being promoted by the IET and DPA to provide assistance to UK practitioners will be a necessary part to translate the 5G promise into reality through clear installation guidance, working technology practices, security-by-design and economic models for business cases. These along with OFCOM, GSMA, BIS, NCSC, IEEE and many others will need to establish pathways with industry and government to enable this 5G vision.

5G is just round the corner but will not be like 3G, 4G or anything ever experienced before. In some ways, it is the internet as it should have worked: instant, everything everywhere, immersive and the backbone of a connected economy and engaged society for generations to come.