Smart government and 5G

November 4, 2020 - Frank Healy

Frank Healy, Senior Product Marketing Manager, explores how the success of governments will be tied into enabling 5G smart cities and public / community use cases

Every year the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) publishes a “Smart City Index” ranking the most connected and evolved cities. The primary test is whether citizens have felt the benefits. Many so called “second cities” where progress on connectivity can be made more easily are gaining ground on larger cities. Undoubtedly, Covid-19 has accelerated a shift towards more inclusive and greener smart cities. In 2020, Singapore, Helsinki and Zurich topped the ranking but expect to see many more small cities move up the rankings in 2021 and beyond.

Lately, the role of government has taken on a renewed relevance as government policy seems more directly involved in the business of saving lives. Public sector inefficiencies – which can be all too commonplace – matter less to the general public, as long as lives are saved. Subtle differences in national as well as local government policy and implementation will be very salient through the end of 2020.

Opportunities for cities to advance in such league tables will be more possible than ever with the availability of 5G and the benefits it can provide for city-wide (and country-wide) enhancements. By now many of the benefits of 5G have been well promoted, especially: Fixed Wireless Access (FWA or the enhanced “last mile”), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) and massive IoT.

The tendency within the telecoms industry however has often been to focus on one or other of the FWA, URLLC or IoT benefits of 5G. It might narrow the focus too much. Perhaps combinational benefits derived from 5G are where 5G becomes most valuable for users and providers alike. It may well be the “spaces in between” or services that combine the best features of 5G that will provide the most benefits.

Many of these combinational services will be of benefit to the public sector. Consider for example a first responder who attends a fire in a building. That responder might in the future rely on various 5G features simultaneously. They may require advanced data speeds (FWA) for upload of live data streams for situational reporting and downloads of medical instructions. They might combine that video stream with Augmented Reality to “see” overlays of building layouts and obtain live feeds of those layouts – which requires the responsiveness that ultra-low latency (URLLC) provides. They may also require live feeds of data from in-building sensors connecting gas and other utilities controlled by IoT. All of that connectivity might be supported by 5G-enabled slices on dedicated infrastructure that is not impacted if users up the street are streaming Netflix. This in other words is a single user (the first responder) benefitting from a combined set of enablers and saving lives as a result.

In order to derive benefits for the public sector, it is difficult to imagine the development of such combinational services in the coming years without involvement of open-minded government agencies partnering strongly with private enterprises. Governments can of course facilitate private sector 5G with the likes of easily available spectrum and clarity relating to data use. But the smartest governments will be far more involved than that. The smartest will ensure the availability of vital testbeds involving public infrastructure and ongoing promotion of public benefits as opposed to wild conspiracy theories. This will include showcasing and encouraging a wide range of use cases for everything from healthcare to public transport. Of course the best service providers will need to reciprocate via positive public sector as well as NGO engagement. Examples of great community engagement to watch are AT&T’s Aspire Accelerator, Vodafone Business Ventures and Orange’s Foundation.

Way back in late 2019 IHS Markit forecast that 5G would provide over $13 trillion in cumulative economic value up to 2035. Over $1 trillion would be directly attributable to the public sector. Given how much public sector budgets and therefore opportunities for cost saving have expanded in 2020, that number may now seem small. Which governments take the lion’s share remains to be seen. Undoubtedly however, robust 5G partnerships across public and private sectors will help some cities and governments to leap more dramatically ahead of others in the next few years.

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