What do the 5G opportunities look like for the UK?

29th November 2019
Anna Flockett

As technology usage increases, people begin to talk more and more about the digital transformation, and we are assured the development of 5G is right around corner. So, what does all this mean for the UK, and what opportunities will all this bring?

At the recent Tech Connect Live event in Milton Keynes, the first panel session of the day discussed the opportunities in store for the UK with regards to 5G and the digital transformation. Simon Reed moderated the talk and started by explaining he had been in the industry a very long time, and involved in almost every step of progression.

He said: “I’ve been around since 1G, so a very long time indeed. I remember being on a stage like this with Bill Gates, who said that his goal was to get a PC on every desk and in every home, but he believed he had failed this. However, I’m now pleased to say he’s definitely achieved that, just look at mobile phones.”

People today are sceptical of 5G and how soon we will really see it in full swing, but then again if you go back 20 years and had told people that mobile phones will take off like they have, would they have believed that? Stephen Muldowney of the company that no one knows how to pronounce Huawei, defended 5G and said it is a lot more reliable than previous 4G technology. He stated: “The industry is more confident in this technology’s reliability, but also we are learning, the Government is learning, the user is learning and even the industry is learning. It’s a learning game and the more we learn the better we get.”

He continued: “You have to remember this technology is still very new, but there are a lot of 5G testbeds out there now which are allowing us to constantly learn more.”

As well as learning about the technology, half the battle is learning to trust the technology, and teaching the technology what to trust and what not to trust. As humans we have an instinct that computers don’t have. Kerry Nutley described: “When you walk into a room, you meet someone and unconsciously straight away judge them and decide whether you trust them. With technology we don’t have that.”

It’s all about how relaxed and trustworthy we are when it comes to technology, Nutley added: “When it comes to technology we just click accept, as there is no barrier to question trust and reliability, this needs to stop. We need to stop just handing our data to anyone, and actually read the terms and conditions when they are placed in front of us.”

5G comes with a lot of responsibility, and are we really ready for it? Gori Yahaya commented: “With this looming, we are not properly educated on how to act responsibly and how to protect our data. Threats now are pretty apparent, and how easily people can take advantage - we see them every day and people are warning us of them, but that’s not 5G’s fault, it’s our fault. We need to educate properly, and ensure people are ready for the responsibility.”

Talking about technology, and certain areas that are not fully there yet when it comes to perfection, we also have a responsibility to teach the technology correctly and right the wrongs. Nutley said: “Algorithms play a part in unconscious bias, and it’s not necessarily their fault, it is based on their learning. So if there is anyone to blame, it is only ourselves, Apple Pay is in the news at the moment for this reason. One huge problem is that generally men are paid more than women so as the technology sees this and learns, when it comes to credit cards they generate lower credit limits for women. We need to act responsibly to monitor and control the platforms so they are not biased.”

The thing is the unconscious bias has always been there but its only now that we are picking up more on it and doing something about it. People are still learning, as is the technology, and although we have come a long way, we still have a long way to go.

What direction do we see the UK going?
Reed commented: “Everyone has heard of IoT, it used to be M2M – it’s all the same, it’s about connecting things with each other and this has been around for a while now. The newer functions are connecting the devices to the home, or to the workplace. More and more technology is being developed but a lot of devices already have the ability to connect, so what’s the problem? It is all a big risk!”

The more technology is developed and the more we learn, the more we see the associated risk. We talk about still needing to be educated, but we are learning and coming to realise the risks involved the convenience of connecting your smart watch to your Alexa device for example.

Reed added: “How safe and secure is your device, and more importantly your data? I once did a talk with Will.I.AM and he said something that has stuck with me “The term ‘free WiFi’ or ‘free internet’ is not all it seems; you will never fully know how much ‘free’ is actually costing you.” And that is true, what are you really paying in terms of data etc. for your free WiFi?”

One thing that really struck a chord with the audience, was a rhetorical question posed by Sonya Barlow: “If we own our own data, why don’t companies pay us for it?”

Everyone claims now that data is the most valuable thing in the world, so why do so many of us hand it out so casually for free? Probably on a daily basis!

Barlow added: “We should be thinking about it more. Why do companies just look and listen in and take our information? Yes, okay without connectivity, it is hard for us generally to be connected, but I think I speak from a different angle here; yes, it is important to be online and have access to information, but it’s our responsibility to be more inclusive and educate when it comes to this.”

Inclusion is important when it comes to developing technology, and without sounding like devil’s advocate, are we now too connected? Barlow also explained: “There are situations now where you have to be online. In my little brother’s school for example, to get a school dinner you have to have a card that is topped up with money online. That means someone, a parent, guardian, whoever, has to be online for them to go to school and eat, and if there is no money on their card or they forget it, you can’t just purchase something as they no longer take cash. Are we forgetting about certain people in society as we become even more connected?”

Finally, Yahaya concluded the talk by stating: “In today’s society data is more valuable than oil. Everyone uses a smart home device whether that be Alexa, Google home, or many other devices, and most people admit they are aware that these devices are listening into everything. But we don’t do anything about it? This is the scary thought. I know it has been said, but this is where we really do need to educate more – in schools, but also in the home too. It is never too late to be educated.”

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