Q:You’ve been closely involved in the growth of the mobile industry from the beginning. We are heading towards 10 billion mobile customers on the planet, and this has been achieved by global cooperation on standards combined with fierce competition. Do you think the industry has reached a plateau? What comes next?
Mike: There is plenty of room for Mobile usage to grow in areas such as Messaging, Streaming, E Commerce, Digital Health, Industry transformation and the Digital economy. The real issue is that not all markets have moved at the same pace with close to 3 billion people still not having access to the Internet. The shape of the market will continue to change, and growth globally will continue to be driven by real demand and innovation. As we connect more and more devices for machines (eg sensors) rather than people, 10 billion may also be an underestimate. Mobile is no longer just for hearing and speaking.
Q: Does the UK industry and Govt have a role to play in the future direction of Mobile and Internet standards?
Mike: Yes. Let me stress it is a global industry where UK has a strong track record and supplier base. Softwarisation of all networks has started but international standards are critical for trust, economies of scale and adoption. Internet capability will continue to evolve but as with Mobile it is important to have scenarios and standards for the future. Standards in both will help to open up wider supplier choice, greater resilience of networks and diversity of ideas. Governments also have a duty to assure nations can remain competitive and high speed networks, with capacity and resilience, are important investment considerations for the economy as a whole.
Q: The UK has been an early adopter of mobile technology, but much of the handset and network equipment is developed overseas. What do you see as the strengths of the UK?
Mike: The UK retains many strengths in Mobile – whether R+D, Digital services, design or in some cases manufacturing. As it is a global market it is important to play to these strengths and address the scale up opportunities, whether through demonstrators, collaboration or exports. The UK5G supplier directory is just one example of the range of capabilities already available in and from the UK, and it is a really good base to show we have more than design capabilities already here.
Q: What can the UK learn from other countries and their deployment of 5G?
Mike: Lots. In contrast to earlier generations of Mobile, 5G is being adopted in different ways. We need to look to China for Volume and early devices. USA is strong today on Fixed Wireless Access and adding fresh approaches to Mobile Broadband to homes and offices. South Korea remains a pioneer. Japan`s scale approach to Open RAN needs to be watched as well as the Olympics demonstrators when they arrive next year. And of course, we will always compare ourselves to leading European countries such as the Nordics and Germany, follow ETSI 3GPP standards and EU plans for collaborative R+D under Horizon Europe. Despite market differences my hope remains that we can all benefit from the shared R+D that underpins better communications, lower unit costs and choices for everyone.
Q:Covid-19 has shown the importance of connectivity – does 5G or next generation comms have a role to play in the recovery?
Mike: It clearly offers more capacity and capability, and during lockdown measures, networks have held up pretty well for at home or away, from base working. There is a lot more than can be done pre 5G with cellular and Wifi today, all around Digital Health. We see the ongoing rise of Apps, Wearables, connected video (the Doctor will see you now – remotely). This is likely to help where remote or telecare can assist.
Q:If you could pick a standout collaborative research project using 5G, what would it be and why?
Mike: The role of the 5G Innovation Centre to me stands out as the first major collaborative effort around networks in the UK with international impact. It built on many years of collaborative R+D projects, it took an applied demonstrators’ approach, and had the support of some key vendors and all UK mobile operators. It also undertook some of the first Satellite 5G activities in the UK. I enjoyed the Millbrook activity for bridging the 2 separate sectors of Automotive and Telecomms, but also to show what private or tailored 5G networks could look like in a test environment. I also have high hopes for WM 5G in the Midlands for the potential to scale up activity.
Q: How often do you meet with international stakeholders to discuss export opportunities and share best practice from the trials and demonstrators?
Mike: Outside of COVID 19 lockdown – this would typically be every day to discuss export opportunities but for all Sectors of the UK economy. Specifically for 5G, the trials and demonstrators are a great showcase for the UK and in context are used regularly in conversations around international Telecomms events, missions and by our overseas trade staff.
Q: For those interested in learning about 5G from an economic point of view, which events should they seek out?
Mike: The biggest investors in 5G are the equipment vendors and their customers, the operators. For a more neutral view internationally ETSI 3GPP, GSM Association and GSA (Supplier Association) are very useful sources. Closer to home UK5G.org can offer information and UK contacts as well.
Q:How is UK excellence supporting those less developed countries? i.e. 'engineering for a better world' - are there any examples you can talk about or reference?
Mike: Traditionally DfID has supported major innovation and capability initiatives such as Mobile money trials and Mobile4Development (M4D). The GSM Association has been an early adopter and supporter of the UN SDG`s for the last 4 years or so and has many case studies on its website.
Many examples of UK excellence have come through these programmes and would expect to see more particularly in areas such as Digital health. Royal Academy of Engineering have also been supporting the Africa Prize for over 5 years now, and Leadership in Innovation Fellowships (LIF), IET and others have also been supporting Appropriate Healthcare Technologies (next AHT event is on 18/9/2020 - https://events.theiet.org/events/aht2020/)
Q: You are speaking at 5G Realised in September, what is your talk about?
Mike: How to make 5G and its evolution a big success – this needs ongoing international collaboration and a longer-term R+D roadmap, guided by pragmatic and clear objectives on what must be done, rather than what can be done.
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