5G industry news

Next steps for smart cities and connected places in the UK

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Lucy Woods on 27 May 2020
  • Last modified 29 May 2020
The Westminster eForum online panel on 7th May considered key issues for the development of smart cities and connected places in the UK - and next steps for local and municipal authorities, central government and regulators, and the private sector.

We asked the panel members to share some thoughts following the webinar...

First up is Dr Rick Robinson, Director of Smart Places, Digital Infrastructure and Telecommunications for Jacobs:

It was encouraging to note the degree of optimism and forwards-looking at the Westminster eForum on Smart Cities earlier this month, even as everyone was clearly wrestling to get to grips with coronavirus and how to get our society and economy back on its feet again. Many common themes ran through the presentations – the need for innovation; the need for a focus on real people and their needs; and the need to align the ability of the private sector to invest in innovation with the real challenges facing both rural and urban communities and their local authorities and public services.

If there’s one thing the coronavirus has proven, it’s that when faced with a truly urgent imperative, both the public and private sectors can adapt at astonishing speed and scale. However, as we do so we need to be sure we’re still doing things the right way. An issue that arose repeatedly in Thursday’s discussions was the proper use of data – it’s undeniably useful for tracking our ability to contain infections, but to what degree could we put privacy and trust at risk by doing so?

This was already an important debate, of course - the monetisation and use of data has become a phenomenally powerful force in society and the economy. But whilst we are already concerned by issues of data privacy and violations of it, we need to extend that debate to data ownership, so that some of the value created from data can flow back to the people who create it through mechanisms such as blockchain and data trusts. 

These issues will not go away when the virus eventually does: we will face challenges of productivity, social mobility, climate change and inequality that were already there, and that will in many cases have been exacerbated. The 5G testbeds and trials programme has demonstrated many ways in which new technologies can contribute to addressing those challenges – but it’s now time to treat those challenges as imperatives too, and deploy these ideas at scale.”

Head of Programme Development - 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme for DCMS, Tony Sceales, was also present on the event panel and shares the following summary:

With our focus on 5G projects in Urban and Rural Connected Communities, UK5G and the DCMS 5G Testbeds and Trials programme had a clearly aligned audience to showcase our work. Keynotes from Theo Blackwell, CDO for the Greater London Authority, and Nicola Yates, CEO of the Connected Places Catapult presented keynotes. Both cited great examples where better digital connections are changing lives and delivering growth.

Common themes across the event were: the sheer complexity of the task faced by local authorities and their suppliers in attempting wholesale transformation of public services across widely varying geographic and economic landscapes, the importance of data stewardship and public trust in data use, and the role of the public sector in removing barriers to infrastructure deployment.

Of course, no conference can ignore the current COVID-19 crisis, and this one didn’t disappoint. Several speakers talked about the role digital technology and a clear data strategy will play in both getting out of severely restricted lockdown on citizen’s liberty and building economic recovery as that happens. The fact that the whole conference was delivered online through Zoom is a testament to the digital capacity we have to overcome distance and stay safely apart.

Stu Higgins is Head of Smart Cities and IoT, UK Public Sector for Cisco:

I spoke about the promise of ‘smart communities’ powered by data from multiple sources, and how this has yet to be realised. Too often data is fragmented, of poor quality and unable to be read by computers or algorithms. In order to travel by train from Scotland to Cornwall, the tracks need to be a standard size and a shared, integrated network needs to exist for all trains to operate – the same can be said for quality data. Progress towards connected communities cannot take place if the data available is not useful to the developers looking to remove friction from our daily lives. While contextual data is common, it is not very useful to developers. Organisations need to look at the quality of the data they are producing, what it can be used for and how it can be accessed. If it is easy to access, understand and integrate then people from all over can contribute to finding shared solutions that will speed up our journey towards truly ‘smart communities’.