Local councils could become a key player in the use of these emerging technologies for the benefit of the public, but how can they make this digital shift part of their long-term forecasting, and ensure that 5G projects are a success?
The UK is currently establishing itself as a global leader in the implementation of 5G, with EE pledging to trial the service in five cities by the middle of this year, and other networks due to follow.
Several of the UK’s major network providers, including EE and Vodaphone, have already revealed details of their plans to roll out 5G across the UK in the near future. Admittedly, the process is likely to represent more of an evolution than a revolution, and it will be a few years before 5G reaches the broader general public.
However, the good news for some local councils is that initial developments are being focused in urban areas, with high data requirements and where new 5G-supported mobile device take-up will be greater.
Without a doubt, the most widely-discussed benefit of 5G compared to existing data services is speed. While on average, it would take around seven minutes to download an HD film over 4G, this process would typically take just four seconds over a 5G service. With this in mind, it is easy to see the technology’s potential for improving the delivery of a range of public sector services where real-time information is essential and high-speed data connections are a pre-requisite.
From smarter refuse collections and intelligent lighting to patient healthcare consultations, any activity which requires enhanced connectivity can deliver customer benefits and potential cost savings. For example, through electronic tagging of bins, the real-time connectivity offered by 5G could enable smarter and more efficient rubbish collection services, indicating when and where bins need emptying or replacing within a given area.
For areas of local council services handling high volumes of personal data, for example, the healthcare, adult and childcare sectors, other advantages of 5G include a more reliable service and enhanced data security for staff working out in the field. 4G services have sometimes proven inconsistent, with devices tending to switch back to 3G in certain areas, however, this problem should become less common as 5G and enhanced 4G is deployed. This enhanced ease of use will be vital when it comes to encouraging the take-up of new mobile-enabled digital services.
While local government may recognise 5G’s potential as a digital service enabler, the pressure on public spending and potential risks around new technology may initially prove a challenge when looking to invest in this area. For this reason, the private sector may be ahead when it comes to harnessing such technologies and local councils are likely to be keeping a close eye on their success before making any significant investments. A lack of funding, and a lack of political will to make business changes, may also hold local councils back from taking advantage of these technological benefits at an early stage, however, with careful planning, they can overcome these obstacles and play an active role in the deployment of 5G services.
When looking to make a digital shift to 5G connectivity, local councils should first develop an understanding of the technology’s deployment timeline and in particular, when it will become available in their area. This will then enable them to put an effective 5G connectivity plan in place, taking into account what their service models currently look like and the changes required to optimise 5G usage.
While there may be a temptation to do everything at once, starting small and adopting a practical approach, for example, piloting remote patient interviews in the healthcare sector and gauging their success, can help the public sector to put resources to best use and avoid making mistakes which could be avoided. The recently released NHS Long Term Plan has pledged that, by 2024, all patients in England will have the right to choose remote GP consultations using a digital GP service.
While the exact changes required to service models will depend on a number of factors, one key area to consider is the readiness of existing technology and devices for 5G implementation. For example, the claims around 5G-enabled self-driving cars require not only extensive 5G coverage but the technology embedded within the car to support instant connectivity with other cars and objects.
The Ordnance Survey accepts that autonomous vehicles are possible with 5G but may be restricted to well-mapped urban areas with high-density 5G support. It is important to bear in mind that the potential for delivering change truly lies not within 5G itself, but within enabled technology, devices and applications, so making the right investments in this area will be key.
By constantly putting themselves in their customers’ shoes and considering what their main needs are, local councils stand a better chance of ensuring that any investments offer both real service value and value for money. With the availability of resources for such projects likely to be limited, a push for joint working and shared investment on transformation projects enabled by 5G between local councils, is likely to play a key role in their future success.
Adopting a holistic approach to change when preparing for 5G is also vital to maximise service levels for customers and avoid issues occurring further down the project pipeline. For example, when the time comes for new technology to be implemented, internal training is likely to be required to ensure it is used to best effect, and so that customers can be guided on how to make use of it too.
Taking steps to make sure that the entire workforce is invested in and understands the importance of change is also key. Within any organisation, processes, people, systems and infrastructure are inextricably linked, so considering the knock-on impacts of 5G transformation in these areas can considerably improve chances of projects running smoothly in the long-term.
Regardless of the scale of 5G initiatives, seeking advice from professionals with experience of delivering digital transformation projects is important to ensure any work is undertaken correctly the first time around. Failing to do so could risk incurring additional costs in order to address unforeseen errors months or years down the line. In particular, making use of blended teams, which involve drawing on different levels of skills and resources at different stages of a project, can help to ensure that budgets are used most effectively by matching changes in project requirements with the right level of expertise.
While there has already been a great deal of discussion around what the UK’s 5G future could look like, the challenge for local councils will be to translate this potential into real-world practical solutions that offer true value to the customer. As such, rather than rushing into this area without a plan, giving careful thought to what customers actually want in terms of service delivery, and starting small, will be crucial. By getting their 5G transformation timeline right, considering the bigger business change picture and bringing in the right expertise at the right time, local councils can improve service levels across a number of key areas without breaking the bank.