5G can create a more prosperous, connected Scotland - Derek Boyd

Derek Boyd, interim director at Scotland 5G Centre, explains how the next generation of mobile technology can transform the nation’s public and private sectors.

5G could be life-changing for those in the Highlands and Islands says Boyd. Picture: Peter Devlin
5G could be life-changing for those in the Highlands and Islands says Boyd. Picture: Peter Devlin

5G has already become the technology talking point of 2020. After months of roll-out across the UK, a range of network providers have made it available to their customers: EE was the first to launch 5G – now supported by a major marketing campaign – followed by all of the other major mobile networks, with vendors now bringing 5G handsets to market.

For most people, 5G will sound like nothing more than a faster continuation of 3G and 4G – the previous generations of mobile technology. Yet, 5G is very different to what has come before: it is a catalyst for change and can transform the communications landscape in Scotland. All the ingredients are there for us to play a leading role in this new era of connectivity.

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The scale of the opportunity for Scotland was highlighted by a recent study from Deloitte. It found that the introduction and adoption of “revolutionary” 5G networks could increase Scotland’s gross domestic product by more than £17 billion – equivalent to 8.3 per cent of our current total economic output. With that could come the potential for 160,000 new jobs by 2035.

Clearly, with such economic potential, 5G is about much more than surfing the internet more quickly. Instead, it will deliver a raft of new capabilities and transform mobile connectivity in urban and rural environments, not only for businesses but the public sector and people living across Scotland, too.

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For companies of all sizes, 5G is an opportunity to transform products, services, and business models. Greater connectivity can help small and medium-sized enterprises in rural parts of the country reach new markets, encourage start-ups to develop new technologies, and inspire organisations to re-design how they work.

'Life-changing' effects

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In that respect, 5G also opens up the potential for public sector organisations to re-invent how they operate. Local authorities, for example, could place temperature sensors on roads to determine whether specific sections need gritting in cold weather. Public bins could be monitored to ensure they are emptied as and when required, rather than beholden to set routes and schedules.

Perhaps most exciting is the potential difference 5G could make to people outside major conurbations. It could enable long-discussed concepts such as telemedicine, bringing healthcare professionals and patients together even if they cannot physically be in the same place.

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This could be life-changing for people living in the Highlands and Islands – indeed, high-speed, reliable, and affordable broadband connectivity could more generally stabilise and strengthen rural communities.

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These are just some of the reasons why Scotland could and should be a leader in 5G. As well as a multitude of reasons why, we also have the means for how we can achieve that aim.

Research taking place at Scottish universities is genuinely pioneering. We have a range of other advantages too: our relatively compact geography, a good mix of urban and rural environments, a track record of innovation, and a diverse range of end-use industries.

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Scotland is an ideal testbed for 5G, and there is already a great deal of work underway. Our 5G RuralFirst 2.0 project, involving the University of Strathclyde, is aiming to provide wireless and mobile connectivity to rural and remote regions of Scotland; expanding in the Orkney Isles and implementing a second rural testbed in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

This testbed will provide wireless broadband access that could enable improved access to healthcare, education and government services for local people; growth in tourism; and better availability of online facilities for businesses in these areas.

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Meanwhile, our initiative for urban innovation districts is creating a 5G-enabled testbed around the University of Glasgow’s campus, allowing a number of new applications to be tested.

This will include the design and build of a unique self-organising network in an urban environment, including a local network and an internet of things platform.

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Moving beyond research and development, the Scotland 5G Centre has a remit to enable faster and wider 5G deployment across Scotland. Scottish Futures Trust is leading another initiative – the Infrastructure Deployment Accelerator project – which will help the public sector and the telecommunications industry work together to roll out infrastructure nationwide through a better understanding of the use of land and buildings.

Nevertheless, to make the most of the opportunity Scotland has, more businesses, organisations, and communities across Scotland need to embrace this next generation of connectivity and collaborate around the benefits it can present. Only by building the ecosystem and connections across Scotland can we become a global leader in 5G.