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As the UK embarks on multi-billion pound infrastructure upgrade to meet our future needs, should we not take this opportunity to make sure it’s connected to our digital infrastructure? Telefonica’s Dr Mike Short takes a look.
One of the key aspects observed from the recent Budget was the level of resource being invested into infrastructure building in the UK. Projects such as HS2, Crossrail 2, new investment from Highways England and the construction of a £4.3bn ‘super-sewer’ under the Thames, all to keep the UK at the leading edge of global competitiveness and ensure the country’s workforce will be supported through transport arteries, telecommunications and places to live and work.
While these massive civil engineering projects stimulate the economy and can improve the day to day lives of great swathes of the UK population there is, perhaps, a digital benefit that we are not taking full advantage of; namely the opportunity to build a super-fast, high capacity mobile network in parallel while the other construction work is on-going.
When considering the way infrastructure projects are researched and planned surely it would be wise to include the long-term benefits of mobile communications that a major new railway construction project will have? For example, the Crossrail passenger transport network carry over 200 million passengers every year by 2025. Now seems the time for multidisciplinary engineering plans for all major construction projects.
The huge volume of people moving into and across the UK capital every day will expect super-fast connectivity. So as developers dig the tunnels, lay the track and build the transit buildings, let’s make sure they are also super-connected. Let’s future-proof our infrastructure as much as we can because the growth in 4G data and video are not showing any sign of slowing and we are nowhere near fulfilling its full potential.
In addition, let’s build our new UK infrastructure with digital and mobile optimisation at the heart. Mobile network builders need easy access to buildings and permission to embed the latest high capacity but small ‘footprint’ wireless technology within structures. The improvements for consumers going about their daily business will be dramatic.
We cannot allow the UK to fall behind other countries in this respect, yet we see more integrated approaches being adopted in some parts of north-east Asia and the Middle East.
All the UK mobile operators are working hard to keep capacity ahead of demand but at the same time consumer electronics companies, automotive manufacturers and social media platforms are working towards their dream of an Internet of Things. A seamless, connected, living and work environment is only a few steps away but for smart cities we need a faster, greater capacity mobile network to feel the benefits of these life changing technologies.
The mobile industry is ready to build a communications network fit for the future; by working with estate planners, developers and construction companies we can leave an infrastructure legacy to be proud of.
Find out more about the role of technology in supporting our cities
Dr Mike Short CBE FREng FIET is vice president of Telefonica and a former president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), 2011-12.