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Why 5G will help us build smart communities as well as smart cities

Brian Jackson, Head of Surveillance Solutions, BT Enterprise, says being ’smart’ is about connecting communities with the technology to address problems that most people assume can never be solved.


Although the idea of smart cities has become ubiquitous in tech conversations across the world, the aim of smart technology is often lost in the hype over the latest innovations or the newest connected devices.

‘Smart’ isn’t simply about connecting devices and scraping more data from people’s day-to-day interactions. It’s about connecting communities with the technology they need to find solutions for problems that most people assume can never be solved.


It’s about how we build communities and prepare them for the future; how we develop sustainable and environmentally friendly processes; how we optimise a region’s services and amenities; and how we enable citizens to live happier, healthier and more productive lives.


The instant impact of 5G


Just as 5G will change the smart city, it will also change the idea of a smart community. By allowing more real-time data to be shared, 5G will have an instant impact on how the local authority serves its residents, allowing them to better understand citizens and offer strategies and solutions to their problems.


However, it’s important to understand that, as with any technology, 5G is simply a tool. While it presents users with options and new possibilities, its ultimate success will rest on the way it’s implemented. And for local authorities, using 5G in the best way possible will entirely depend on how well they understand the concerns and demands of their constituents.


This means gathering data from the community – using intelligent end-points and sensors to look carefully, for example, at how and when amenities and services are being used in order to make sure they have the resources needed to cope with demand at peak times.


Even in this area, 5G can help – enabling the deployment of high-quality surveillance solutions that can be set up at a moment’s notice (and once the pressing need is resolved, quickly dismantled and redeployed).


"While it presents users with options and new possibilities, 5G’s ultimate success will rest on the way it’s implemented"


With 5G connections, the cameras can transmit secure high-quality, high-definition imagery, which can be controlled with very low-latency, providing surveillance solutions for police and local authorities as well as capabilities such as people- and vehicle-counting so that authorities can start planning for future smart investments.


The more data that can be collected, the more accurate the understanding. Of course, this requires a network that can cope with vast volumes of data moving backwards and forwards. That means a huge mesh of constantly communicating sensors, an innovation only truly viable through enormous bandwidth and robust reliability.


This is where 5G comes in: the extra speed, security, reliability and responsiveness of a 5G network has the power to reinvent the way local authorities and police leverage surveillance to address anti-social behaviour and support counter-terrorism as well as gather smart information – making them more efficient, more secure and more productive.


Surveillance applications


Surveillance is one area in which 5G will have an impact. Already nearly a quarter of local authorities are working towards becoming smart cities, using an interconnected network of fixed and mobile cameras and sensors to gather intelligence. 5G will provide secure access not only to power these solutions but can help connect them, enabling field-based operatives real-time access to the data.


Being able to share this information means greater efficiencies in city management, policing and the other blue light services, improving resource utilisation and speed of managing problems.


Security, it should be noted, is of paramount concern – especially as citizens become increasingly worried about how and where their data is being used. Importantly, as well as lifting network performance, 5G will also offer improved security standards, with all data sent over the network now being encrypted. This is vital when considering GDPR implications – article 32 states that any data that can be used to identify a data subject and everything from CCTV to census data must be pseudonymised or encrypted.


And with 5G providing a huge influx of new information, there is an opportunity to justify a more radical approach to digital investment. It would be a brave mindset shift from the typically risk-averse culture within the public sector but learning from other countries and the private sector can drive that change.


"The answer is to think progressively; to look beyond our current challenges and think about how we might create solutions that solve tomorrow’s issues, as well as today’s"


Organisations such as local authorities are often stuck in the mindset of, ‘what-can-we-do-better?’. Although this is a good starting point, it is an approach that, too often, ends up limiting the potential for innovative thinking. With technology advancing quicker than adoption rates, it’s easy for solutions to be outdated before they are even put into practice.


The answer is to think progressively; to look beyond our current challenges and think about how we might create solutions that solve tomorrow’s issues, as well as today’s.


Hospital and care services


Another such example is the increasing pressures on hospitals’ accident and emergency (A&E) services, adult care services and the resulting demand for home care in the community. As the UK’s population becomes older, a new approach to healthcare is needed, and the capabilities of 5G could play a key part in the solution. Using 5G-enabled smart technology, for example, older generations are able to live at home for longer, with their health and wellbeing monitored and managed to ease pressures on A&E and adult care services.


Using the power and scale of 5G, non-intrusive smart sensor technology in the home could be used to monitor people’s daily patterns. This could be their movement, or asking questions such as, have they got out of bed, how are they using their utilities, and have they put the kettle on or is their home warm enough? With this data, we can learn more about their wellbeing, with real-time flags being made at the first sign that things may not be right.


"With the introduction of 5G, we could be seeing increasingly tech-savvy and connected communities sooner rather than later"


Similarly, wearable technology can monitor vital signs – from heart rate to temperature to breathing – as well as remind patients to take their regular medication. The data can be collated and fed back to care services and alarms triggered for anomalies or emergency conditions.


Using these preventative health monitoring techniques, the NHS can help reduce the strain on its already-stretched services, while providing an improved experience to users.


At the same time, the population’s data can then be anonymised and analysed to help spot underlying patterns, giving healthcare professionals insight into the warning signs for any number of diseases and conditions.


However, the level of detail that we need to make such schemes worthwhile is predicated on the implementation of 5G. We need the low latency and high throughput network, operating at a level that is beyond 4G.


With the introduction of 5G, we could be seeing increasingly tech-savvy and connected communities sooner rather than later.


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