5G industry news Acceleration & Innovation

Perspectives on Diversification: University of Strathclyde

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 1 Feb 2023
  • Last modified 12 Jan 2023
The UK Government is committed to diversifying the telecoms supply chain, but diversification can cover a multitude of principles, and different players in the ecosystem will have varying viewpoints on what diversification means for them. As a part of our new content series, Perspectives on Diversification, UKTIN spoke to David Crawford, Principal Knowledge Exchange Fellow of Electronic and Electrical Engineering at the University of Strathclyde.

1. How do you define diversification?

There’s been lots of talk of supply chain diversification in relation to telecoms, and it seems to be aimed mainly at trying to increase the number of suppliers of telecommunications infrastructure equipment for mainstream national networks offering public broadband and mobile services for consumers and businesses. The hope appears to be that this will result in there being more than just two or three Tier 1 suppliers and the industry will benefit from greater competition that this would create. While this makes sense, it’s quite limited in scope and ambition. There’s an opportunity to widen the scope and think about diversifying the market itself. For example, it’s possible to use various types of equipment to build bespoke, 5G ‘private’ networks tailored for specific applications and user groups. Some of these networks may even be relatively transient in nature (e.g. ‘pop-up’) rather than permanent installations.

2. How significant do you think supply chain diversification is and why?

I think this depends on the overall approach and ambition. At a basic level, the introduction of more suppliers would potentially yield benefits associated with having increased competition in the supply chain. But if we’re a bit more ambitious in our thinking, we might recognize that there’s an opportunity to encourage a home-grown industry developing a range of equipment for future telecoms networks and services. This is arguably where the real benefits ultimately exist.

3. What implications will it have?

We are actively engaged in developing cost-effective 5G solutions for pop-up private networks tailored to the specific requirements on a case-by-case basis. We view this kind of approach as a key ingredient of diversification, with the potential to become part of the mainstream thinking for networks in the future.

4. What are the key challenges in diversification?

One key challenge is that building the required capability takes a lot of effort and resource. There’s a reason why the market is currently dominated by just two or three players.

5. How do we overcome these challenges?

Overcoming these challenges requires ambition and perseverance, as well as appropriate support from Government and regulatory bodies.

6. What do you think the next 3-5 years look like for the telecoms sector?

This depends. If the ambition is constrained to simply diversifying the supply chain for the existing national networks, then I’m afraid I don’t really see the telecoms sector in 3-5 years being all that much different from what it looks like today. If, however, we have enough collective ambition to push into new areas and diversify the market itself rather than just the supply chain, then we could see a range of new telecoms networks and services in the next 3-5 years. The national public services will still be there, providing the ‘staple’ connectivity that we all need and want. But there will be additional, smaller networks operated by a variety of organizations providing cost-effective, bespoke connectivity for new applications and use cases for a range of industries, business, and communities.

7. What is the one thing people should know about diversification?

Diversification has the potential to bring about real benefits across a wide range of users and user groups. But it also has the potential to be quite limited in its achievements. It all depends on the collective ambition and goals being strived for.