5G mobile infrastructure could be worth £2.8bn a year to Britain – so long as government steps up

The Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, March 2018. Image: Getty.
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It’s rather unsurprising given this week’s tumultuous events that Brexit continues to dominate time, energy and focus in Westminster.

But the fact is the UK faces some great domestic challenges beyond this, which will arguably have just as much impact on our economic prosperity in the next 10 to 20 years. Not least of these is the installation of 5G mobile infrastructure, which is not guaranteed for the UK and will not happen without concerted action and focus.

Government quite rightly wants the UK to be a leader in 5G. After all, the next generation of mobile connectivity has the power to be as transformative as electricity for our daily lives and for our economy. O2’s recent analysis, ‘The value of 5G for cities and communities’, shows it could save local authorities all over the UK up to £2.8bn a year through efficiencies such as smart street-lighting and more efficient rubbish collections, and cut household bills by up to £450 a year – as well as assisting public services like the NHS move to digital and therefore free up more time to help patients.

This is tremendously exciting. But these benefits for cities aren’t guaranteed and we risk drift without concerted, collaborative action.

At O2 we’re already taking steps to secure that 5G future for the UK. We are launching a 5G test bed at the O2 in North Greenwich later this year and are planning to install similar test beds across Wales, Scotland and in Northern Ireland. We’re also working to roll out the small cell technology that will lay the foundations for our customers to enjoy 5G in places up and down the UK. We’ve already rolled out 1,400 small cells in London in partnership with Cisco, with plans to deploy 300 more in collaboration with Arqiva this year.

But we are not there yet. Building the next generation of transformative mobile infrastructure requires major investment and infrastructure installation in UK cities – and mobile operators cannot do it alone. This investment must be supported and enabled by bold and progressive decision-making in national and local government.

That is why O2 has worked with independent think tank Centre for Cities to draw up a blueprint on how together we can ensure 5G and other upcoming digital developments deliver for consumers and businesses in cities across the country, as well as for UK Plc. It also shows how cities can make better use of existing digital connections, drawing on examples of what is currently working best in places across the UK.


Amongst other things, the report, ‘Delivering Change’, calls for reforms to be made to the Electronic Communications Code to ensure it does not just work on paper. The report also recommends that the National Planning Policy Framework should include a requirement for the provision of high quality digital infrastructure – mobile and fixed – to be pre-installed in all new developments, like other utilities are.

But government should to be even more radical in its approach to tackling the barriers preventing 5G roll-out. Though it is rising, fibre coverage in the UK – which is critical to the deployment of 5G – still falls behind many of the developed nations, particularly for residential. We need that market to be developed and made more competitive to encourage the fast deployment of fast fibre in the UK.

Government should also ensure operators have easier and better access to existing infrastructure, such as BT ducts and poles and full fibre networks for mobile backhaul.

More also needs to be done to expand access to public sites at more affordable prices, so operators can install new mobile infrastructure. I would like to see, for example, the government setting up a challenge fund so people and organisations can apply to enjoy reductions in rent, in return for opening up their homes and buildings in order to improve digital connectivity in their local area. After all, landlords literally ‘hold the key’ to unlocking access to ultrafast connectivity for the UK.

Our vision is that all parties – government, regulators, industry, local authorities, landlords and developers – work together to secure an environment in which it takes just weeks and is commercially sensible to install a 5G small cell no bigger than a laptop into our built environment. Only then can we ensure that the investment, adoption and prioritisation of 5G matches the opportunity it presents – with no exception and for the benefit of all.

Britain was a pioneer of mobile technology. But without the right focus on 5G we risk squandering the benefits of 5G and losing the digital leadership we have worked so hard to establish.

Derek McManus is chief operating officer of O2.

You can learn more about this topic in the ‘Delivering Change’ report, published in association with the Centre for Cities.

 
 
 
 

What does the fate of Detroit tell us about the future of Silicon Valley?

Detroit, 2008. Image: Getty.

There was a time when California’s Santa Clara Valley, bucolic home to orchards and vineyards, was known as “the valley of heart’s delight”. The same area was later dubbed “Silicon Valley,” shorthand for the high-tech combination of creativity, capital and California cool. However, a backlash is now well underway – even from the loyal gadget-reviewing press. Silicon Valley increasingly conjures something very different: exploitation, excess, and elitist detachment.

Today there are 23 active Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in Santa Clara County, California. Its culture is equally unhealthy: Think of the Gamergate misogynist harassment campaigns, the entitled “tech bros” and rampant sexism and racism in Silicon Valley firms. These same companies demean the online public with privacy breaches and unauthorised sharing of users’ data. Thanks to the companies’ influences, it’s extremely expensive to live in the area. And transportation is so clogged that there are special buses bringing tech-sector workers to and from their jobs. Some critics even perceive threats to democracy itself.

In a word, Silicon Valley has become toxic.

Silicon Valley’s rise is well documented, but the backlash against its distinctive culture and unscrupulous corporations hints at an imminent twist in its fate. As historians of technology and industry, we find it helpful to step back from the breathless champions and critics of Silicon Valley and think about the long term. The rise and fall of another American economic powerhouse – Detroit – can help explain how regional reputations change over time.

The rise and fall of Detroit

The city of Detroit became a famous node of industrial capitalism thanks to the pioneers of the automotive age. Men such as Henry Ford, Horace and John Dodge, and William Durant cultivated Detroit’s image as a centre of technical novelty in the early 20th century.

The very name “Detroit” soon became a metonym for the industrial might of the American automotive industry and the source of American military power. General Motors president Charles E. Wilson’s remark that, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa,” was an arrogant but accurate account of Detroit’s place at the heart of American prosperity and global leadership.

The public’s view changed after the 1950s. The auto industry’s leading firms slid into bloated bureaucratic rigidity and lost ground to foreign competitors. By the 1980s, Detroit was the image of blown-out, depopulated post-industrialism.

In retrospect – and perhaps as a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley – the moral decline of Detroit’s elite was evident long before its economic decline. Henry Ford became famous in the pre-war era for the cars and trucks that carried his name, but he was also an anti-Semite, proto-fascist and notorious enemy of organised labor. Detroit also was the source of defective and deadly products that Ralph Nader criticized in 1965 as “unsafe at any speed”. Residents of the region now bear the costs of its amoral industrial past, beset with high unemployment and poisonous drinking water.


A new chapter for Silicon Valley

If the story of Detroit can be simplified as industrial prowess and national prestige, followed by moral and economic decay, what does that say about Silicon Valley? The term “Silicon Valley” first appeared in print in the early 1970s and gained widespread use throughout the decade. It combined both place and activity. The Santa Clara Valley, a relatively small area south of the San Francisco Bay, home to San Jose and a few other small cities, was the base for a computing revolution based on silicon chips. Companies and workers flocked to the Bay Area, seeking a pleasant climate, beautiful surroundings and affordable land.

By the 1980s, venture capitalists and companies in the Valley had mastered the silicon arts and were getting filthy, stinking rich. This was when “Silicon Valley” became shorthand for an industrial cluster where universities, entrepreneurs and capital markets fuelled technology-based economic development. Journalists fawned over successful companies like Intel, Cisco and Google, and analysts filled shelves with books and reports about how other regions could become the “next Silicon Valley”.

Many concluded that its culture set it apart. Boosters and publications like Wired magazine celebrated the combination of the Bay Area hippie legacy with the libertarian individualism embodied by the late Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. The libertarian myth masked some crucial elements of Silicon Valley’s success – especially public funds dispersed through the U.S. Defense Department and Stanford University.

The ConversationIn retrospect, perhaps that ever-expanding gap between Californian dreams and American realities led to the undoing of Silicon Valley. Its detachment from the lives and concerns of ordinary Americans can be seen today in the unhinged Twitter rants of automaker Elon Musk, the extreme politics of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and the fatuous dreams of immortality of Google’s vitamin-popping director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. Silicon Valley’s moral decline has never been clearer, and it now struggles to survive the toxic mess it has created.

Andrew L. Russell, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of History, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Lee Vinsel, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Virginia Tech.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.