In our previous article, we discussed the impacts of COVID-19 on businesses in the West Midlands, the ways in which this has accelerated the adoption of digital trends, and ultimately how West Midlands 5G is able to support on this.

Management consultants McKinsey & Company has reported a substantial uplift in digital engagement over the course of the last few months with a 69% increase in telemedicine; a 60% increase in remote learning; a 50% increase in online fitness; and a 35% increase in online grocery ordering.

They estimate that adoption of digital engagement by both consumers and businesses has leapt forward by five years over the course of just a few months and predict that these trends are here to stay.

With digital engagement at an all-time high, it is clear that the future of the economy – and in particular its recovery from the impacts of COVID-19 – will be increasingly reliant on digital platforms and over-time the potential that can be provided through 5G.

It’s vital we ensure that we are ready to capitalise on these opportunities and are prepared to engage with them by providing the right infrastructure, skills and opportunities to explore potential applications.

Here we speak to business leaders about the ways in which 5G will aid recovery and consider what changes may be required to ensure that we are ready to meet the requirements of this new technology.

This article will cover five key areas:

  • Improving productivity
  • Enabling organisations to experiment and understand 5G
  • Creating opportunities to enhance digital skillsets
  • Reskilling and reinventing the workplace
  • Opening up innovation and entrepreneurship

Businesses have already demonstrated their resilience

The unprecedented steps that have had to be taken during the COVID-19 pandemic have had a profound effect on the national economy, with businesses forced to make redundancies, and in some cases, close their doors for good.

But others have been more fortunate, able to reorient their businesses to new models and change the focus to ensure that they are able to ride-out the pandemic and consider rebuilding.

This has enabled them to find some positive elements that they can continue to grow and develop, and naturally the current application of new technologies is at the forefront of their thinking.

5G technology will improve productivity

Boiler and heating manufacturer Worcester Bosch is taking part in the 5G testbed and is part of the Worcester 5G Consortium. Like other manufacturing businesses, it has suffered from the outbreak of COVID-19.

In March of this year, demand dropped by around 80%, and 70% of its 2,000-strong workforce was placed on furlough. By June, demand had begun to recover but was still only at 65% of normal levels.

This has placed a heightened emphasis on ensuring that the business is focused on creating greater efficiencies that can lead to long-term cost savings. Bosch believes that 5G technology will play a significant role in delivering against these targets and help the business to recover.

Bosch has already undertaken work around Industry 4.0 and factories of the future and was therefore ready to explore how 5G could be utilised effectively to benefit the business, support cost-savings and aid in its recovery.

The first step for Worcester Bosch has seen the installation of 5G-connected sensors within machinery at its production centre. These sensors can feed data in real-time to engineers and alert them when the machine beings to show signs that it requires maintenance or repair.

Carl Arntzen, Chief Executive of Worcester Bosch, said: “Currently we have to take each machine offline to conduct a full inspection several times a year. Machines can be down for 3-4 days at a time through this process, which is extremely costly in terms of production.

“By streaming real-time data to our engineers, they can identify when a machine is looking like it will slip out of tolerance, so we can respond and maintain that part of the machine, greatly increasing our productivity.”

Carl hopes that this technology will soon be scalable, with home boilers able to anticipate faults before they occur. Using 5G networks, an alert can be sent to an engineer who will then contact the homeowner, avoiding the unpleasant surprise of a cold shower in the morning or no heating in winter.

5PRING Innovation Centres will open opportunities for experimentation

A company taking a similar approach to 5G integration as Worcester Bosch is the Innovation Birmingham-based Faraday Battery Company.

Sanjay Gupta is the founder of the start-up which was launched in 2019. Its aim is to change the status quo and create high performance battery packs for electric vehicles of all sizes.

“Right now, the only time when you know that there is a fault is when your car either breaks down, or you get a warning light on the dashboard. By this point, the fault has usually already taken place.

“In an electric world, things can be better. By developing predictive maintenance, we can make vehicles more reliable. We can install hundreds of sensors on the battery pack that can feed telemetry back to us in real time.

“Up until this point, we’ve been limited by the existing technology. Transmission of data is only just possible over 4G, but it can’t handle nearly the volume of data that we would need to make this effective. This is why 5G is so important to us – it can truly revolutionise the ways in which we can use data to create real, tangible and measurable benefits for end users.”

For Sanjay, locating his business at Innovation Birmingham, where the 5prinG 5G Accelerator is also sited – creates obvious benefits.

“We have to give people the opportunity to explore this technology, really get to grips with it and understand what it can deliver.  This is why it’s so useful that we’re located on the same park as the 5pringG accelerator.”

Embrace the need to enhance digital skills

The advent of 5G represents a significant step forward in innovation, speed and reliability and will become a new standard in data transfer and communication. But new technologies require new skills to modify, maintain and adapt them to fit the needs and future demands of end-users.

The UK is the fifth most digitally-advanced nation in Europe and is home to more start-up businesses valued at $1 billion or more (known as ‘unicorns’) than any other country. It is also expected that by 2022, emerging technologies will have generated more than 133 million new jobs.

However, the UK already has an existing skills gap that will only be exacerbated by the increased demand for a workforce proficient in these technologies.

David Hardman from Bruntwood SciTech operates the Innovation Birmingham Campus, an incubator and cluster for tech-sector start-ups and the location identified by WM5G and its partners to host the UK’s first 5G application accelerator, known as 5PRING.

He says that this is the perfect time for schools to consider utilising enhanced technologies:

“Attention spans are growing shorter and children are becoming increasingly adept at using the internet as a resource. In a classroom, it could take an hour to teach something that a child can learn by themselves in a percentage of that time.

“The widespread availability of affordable technology and ‘always on’ nature of the internet has created a generation of innately digital 16-year-olds. This group is capable of so much digital interaction without any training already and this will only increase with the deployment of 5G and other superfast technologies.

“In addition to university graduates, talent will in the future also be drawn from the self-taught innately digital teenagers sat in their bedrooms; connected through 5G, they will be operating in a digital environment that is second nature to them. Innovators thinking ‘outside the box’ because they have never been placed in ‘box’.”

Reskilling and reinventing the workplace is vital

This fundamental adjustment to the education system is something that WM5G Board Member and Chief Executive of the Nachural Group, Ninder Johal, agrees with:

“The next generation studies and plans very differently to us and we need to consider how we’re teaching them these essential digital skills. Particularly under the current spectre of mass unemployment, reskilling is vital and 5G is the umbrella for both this innovation and future delivery.”

This fundamental change of mindset will also need to be embraced by businesses, with those unable to meet expectations on perks and flexibility unlikely to be highly sought-after as employers by digitally-savvy graduates.

Ninder added: “Employees’ expectations are very different now, as we’ve seen through the innovations and changes to working practices – such as flexible working and added perks – that the Millennial workforce has introduced.”

Enabling innovation and entrepreneurship

Robert Franks, Managing Director at WM5G, added: “We believe 5G  will make the pivotal difference – driving both social and economic recovery  . The sheer capacity of the network, speed of data transfer and low latencies provide an ideal platform to support business growth and development.

“Through our 5PRING accelerators, businesses – and public sector organisations – will be able to receive advice and support on the ways that they can integrate 5G into their existing systems, creating landmark opportunities to truly explore new ways of thinking, learning and working.” 

Organisations looking to test, prove and scale new 5G services – or those who would benefit from an introduction to 5G technology – should register their interest with 5PRING.