07 December 2023
Bob Driver, lead for adoption, UKTIN
Innovation has always been split into two parts: the shiny new thing, and the practical considerations of how to deploy it effectively. When it comes to smart cities and smart communities, the concept is not new, but the reality of delivering connectivity for citizens is challenging.
With technologies and standards constantly evolving, local government must make sure they are effectively navigating the complexities surrounding the deployment of advanced communication technologies. Whether this is how they partner with the private sector, understanding the role they can play in developing commercial models, or complying with regulations around data privacy.
Local government can play a critical role in delivering connectivity
To be truly effective, smart communities need to be seen as part of a wider strategy for UK connectedness. Both the public and private sectors have a part to play in achieving a successful and connected future.
Advanced connectivity solutions such as 5G, coupled with an increasing demand for data, means a densification of networks is often needed to meet demand – for example, a larger deployment of small cells. Implementing small cells requires access to suitable infrastructure, much of which will be local authority managed, such as street columns.
Evolving the delivery of smart infrastructure
For both the public and private sectors, knowing that citizens need connectivity and a willingness to grant access to publicly owned assets is a vital first step, but the practicalities can often be overwhelming.
New standards are constantly needed across the technology sector to ensure solutions are being effectively regulated and consumers are being kept safe. For local authorities, keeping up to speed can often be a daunting task.
Increasing connectivity is not as simple as solely deploying small cells on street columns. Organisations leading the tech strategy need to consider factors such as how much weight existing columns can support; how to adequately protect critical infrastructure from both physical and cyber risks; and if they are investing in new columns, how they can balance the need for small cells against necessities such as charging points for electric vehicles (EVs).
Initiatives such as the Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP) can play a vital role in delivering greater connectivity. Through SIPP, six areas across the UK have been awarded funding to test smart streetlamps that can house EV charging hubs and boost wireless coverage including 5G.
This is all part of the government’s aim to level-up digital connectivity and test next-generation digital technologies. The pilot programmes will be testing a variety of functions, ranging from charging EVs, and implementing Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to measure things like air quality, to displaying public information and saving energy with street lighting.
SIPP has been created to support the UK’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, building on the earlier Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA) programme which generated a data toolkit for local authorities to use. DCIA was a collective effort involving local authorities, organisations, and industry from across the country.
It’s certainly positive to see the government’s commitment to ensuring connectivity is being delivered with local authorities and the telecoms sector working together. There is a clear vision in place for how advanced wireless infrastructure can become part of the UK’s economy and society by 2030 – now it’s time to deliver!
“To be truly effective, smart communities need to be seen as part of a wider strategy for UK connectedness. Both the public and private sectors have a part to play in achieving a successful and connected future. Advanced connectivity solutions such as 5G, coupled with an increasing demand for data, means a densification of networks is often needed to meet demand.”
Improving connectivity by partnering with the telecoms sector
A core part of the UK’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy centres around the need for regions and communities across the UK to become truly smart. However, this is where the public sector needs the support of forums such as the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN), which offers a front door into the telecoms ecosystem.
The aim is to provide guidance and transferable learnings about projects such as SIPP, so organisations and sectors can learn from another. This helps ensure each region does not have to learn everything for themselves but can instead benefit from shared knowledge. For example, UKTIN’s Place hub shares practical insights and best practice around how local authorities approach digital infrastructure and connectivity programmes, to ensure other organisations can seize the same opportunities.
As part of the work UKTIN is doing to consolidate the telecoms sector, it is also providing an in-person supplier specialist guidance service to actively help national and international organisations identify funding routes, new partners, and innovative opportunities into creating smart and connected communities. Alongside this, its Innovation Platform helps to mature the early-stage businesses needed to provide the fizz to the supply-side mix of network providers and system integrators.
UKTIN is also helping support initiatives such as the government’s 5G Innovation Regions funding programme, which aims to bring together public and private sectors to harness the transformative capabilities of 5G. Delivering advanced connectivity through a smart city in one isolated region would have local impact, but innovation only works if it’s meaningful and people are able to rely on it everywhere.
The establishing of 5G Innovation Regions creates the kind of joined up approach that will be critical in delivering tangible innovation nationwide. UKTIN is playing a vital role in supporting the programme by collaborating with the successful local and regional authorities to understand and disseminate their learnings to all regions and devolved nations, ensuring the whole of the UK has access to actionable insights.
Smart communities certainly have the potential to positively change our everyday experience through improving the way we connect across how we live and work.
However, the right sectors and organisations must be brought along on the journey. The telecoms sector needs to work with local government to help take innovation and turn it into greater connectivity, tangibly improving the way we live and work. The hard work is in the practical deployment. It’s not the most exciting or glamorous part of innovation – but it’s where the real magic happens.