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A Note from UK5G's Chair on Connectivity and COVID-19

  • 6 minute read
  • Published by Rosalind Singleton on 26 Mar 2020
  • Last modified 26 Mar 2020
UK5G and the Advisory Board have been thinking about the issues arising from the current crisis.  COVID-19 is rapidly changing our working and home lives.  Citizens and workers who are finding themselves at home are deploying and testing a wide range of new applications to tackle social isolation, education, well-being and business.

Lack of connectivity is no longer merely an inconvenience; it is now a critical issue. This time of emergency is an inflection point in the development of the industry and in the attitude of the population towards technology. It is, in effect, an enormous experiment in connectivity and resilience.  Given that widespread availability of a vaccine is likely to be 12-18 months away, this resilience could be required for a sustained period, and lessons learned about preparedness.

We understand that these are not 5G issues per se, but broader telco/ISP, industry and societal matters. We acknowledge that this is complex in terms of timing (short or long term), ownership (who leads) and understanding of the technology itself. This cannot all sit at the door of DCMS or Ofcom, a wider response is needed.

How can the telecommunications sector and its supply chain come together with Government and the regulator to tackle these serious challenges as well as some previously intractable ones? New thinking and approaches will be essential. What normal rules should be relaxed to get things fixed at pace?

The DCMS funded 5GTT projects show novel approaches to connectivity and the deployment of technology, those associated with the projects and many in the wider UK5G network have a huge amount to offer.

We also fully appreciate that much work is already underway across Government and within numerous industry forums.  We have no wish to duplicate or add to the noise.  See below a series of suggestions and observations that we hope are helpful. 

With that in mind we have added the COVID-19 Collaboration Exchange to the UK5G website to gather and categorise your ideas, suggestions and issues.  Please read on and feel free to contribute. 

How to use the COVID-19 Collaboration Exchange

The DCMS are part of the huge cross-government approach to tackling the virus and is working with the telecoms industry and its technology supply chain to develop and implement a coordinated response.  We want to support them, without overwhelming them!

The collaboration exchange is a means by which comments from the network can be fed in, and discussions initiated.  The purpose is to generate insights and ideas - but in a controlled way.  From time to time UK5G will review the comments made and feed them into the DCMS.

Please use the COVID-19 tag when posting your comment.

Here is a ‘Starter for 10’ of topics to consider ideas around – though not to be limited by:

Thoughts on Connectivity and COVID 19

Identifying need
The need for baseline determination of UK connectivity. This should be a consolidated view of both coverage and capacity/resilience and be used to identify areas of not-spots and connectivity gaps.  How can data on both mobile and fixed connectivity be aggregated?  What techniques can be used?

Critical importance of the network and protection of workers
Clarity to all operators that they are critical, and both build and installs should carry on. This mean the workforce continues under guidance.  How can this be made to happen?

Improving Connectivity in areas of need
What needs to be prioritised?

  • Can existing telecommunications infrastructure/spectrum be shared where appropriate?
  • Can areas of need be urgently met by agreeing the most appropriate cross-industry response to drive maximum connectivity for citizens?
  • Can there be coordinated approaches to the rapid installation or improved connectivity for:
    • key worker premises
    • medical facilities and hospitals - including temporary hospitals/treatment centres

Provision of mobiles to hospitals
Should there be widespread provision of donated mobiles into hospitals for critically ill patients unable to be with their loved ones at a time of need?

Epidemiological mapping/control of COVID-19
Can Mobile network operators collaborate with the Govt to develop big data track/trace solutions for the epidemiological mapping/control of COVID-19.  This implies new approaches to security, data sharing, GDPR issues. In an emergency should rules be relaxed?  Can we limit durations of these approaches – ie how do we ‘switch it off’ when the emergency has passed? How can we ensure that there is sufficient understanding about the convergence here of technological and clinical/epidemiological issues? 

Testing of COVID-19
How can connectivity assist in the execution of widespread testing?

Cyber Security Risks
How can we mitigate cyber security risks as more people, particularly children, use online applications?

Applications
Assuming connectivity is in place - what are we going to do with it?  How can we support the rapid development of applications for the new paradigm of living in a socially distanced situation?

  • Elderly and sick: can old tablets be re-provisioned and configured with basic apps to be provided to those in isolation without their own devices or connectivity? The Liverpool 5G Testbed has proven a cost-effective solution for providing broadband connectivity to vulnerable homes and tackling issues such as loneliness and health monitoring, with carers making video calls to clients at regular times throughout the day to check on their well-being and ensure medication has been taken.
     
  • Education and home schooling: the children most in need of education to improve their life chances are precisely those most likely to be unable to access it now. Can rapid deployment of FWA solutions help, or integrated devices for the home be prioritised for particular purposes?
     
  • Business: how can we help the economy go on-line. Business and other organisations will need assistance adapting their businesses to new on-line models – for example, restaurants converting to online orders and deliveries; exercise instructors hosting classes via video link. How best to reach these groups? Digital skills are critical, there is a need for the mobilisation of champions or “buddies” to assist families and businesses to go on-line
  • Culture: We are dispersed but need to be brought together. We know that concerts, gigs or plays in distributed locations could be enabled by 5G.   What can be done with major cultural organisations and new Creative Industry companies to enable this?

Written by Rosalind Singleton, Chair of the UK5G Advisory Board

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