Impact of Technology on Infrastructure Areas: Digital Connectivity and Communications
It is vital to provide excellent telecommunication and digital infrastructure to support economic growth and inclusion objectives.
The rise of the as-a-service data economy
Cloud Computing (on-demand availability of computer system resources, without direct active management by the user) is an important technology that leverages Big Data and Advanced Analytics to provide access to data and analysis from anywhere. This Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) model allows organisations to access real-time data streams and removes the constraints of internal data sources. Implementation of cloud computing is part of the Scottish Government’s strategy for the delivery of ICT services in the public sector in Scotland.
IoT and Advanced Sensing technologies are essential enablers for digital operations. They allow for data collection and exchange across connected smart devices. Photonics provides the underpinning technology for fast and efficient capturing, storing and transferring of data capabilities in communications infrastructure, and is therefore a crucial enabler of the efficient adoption of digital technologies such as Big Data, cyber security, artificial intelligence, IoT and cloud computing. Photonics is a key innovation sector in Scotland. Quantum technologies, enabled by photonics, will enable more accurate measurements and quicker communications.
In 2018 the Scottish Government announced an advanced Internet of Things (IoT) network as part of a £6m project to invest in new wireless sensor networks. This will enable organisations to monitor the efficiency and productivity of their assets and equipment and scheduled maintenance, thus improving production.
The demand for improved and secure data and communications connectivity
The delivery of 5G networks will be commercially driven, but public sector support for the development of 5G use and testing of networks is already underway, including the Dundee Waterfront Wi-Fi/5G project and the UK Government-funded 5G trials in rural Scotland (Orkney), led by Cisco and the University of Strathclyde. 5G will have a major impact on a variety of aspects of people’s daily lives, as it radically changes the speed of data transmission and reduces the ‘latency’ (time between data being sent and received), enabling data rich connectivity to take place seamlessly. Everything from connected and smart home applications, including telehealth and smart energy, connected and autonomous cars and intelligent transport systems, are all enabled by radically improving the speed of connectivity.
As individuals and governments begin to rely more and more on smart and connected systems, Cyber Security also becomes critical to safety, privacy and wellbeing. A total of £3.5m has been allocated for the year 2018-2019 by the Scottish and UK Governments to help support implementation of the Scottish Government’s cyber security action plans, aiming to ensure that citizens are equipped with the skills needed to operate safely online, and that the country is training the cyber security specialists needed to support industry and government. Blockchain technology allows for credible and transparent transactions and has been identified by Scottish Government as a tool that can address key issues in digital public services to make them safer. Wallet.Services is collaborating with the Scottish Government to establish a blockchain strategy.
Satellite Technology is becoming an important element in the 5G ecosystem, complementing and building on fixed, wireless terrestrial communication infrastructure. Due to their difference in capabilities, satellites will not compete directly with terrestrial technologies, such as cellular and fibre optics, but will, instead, likely be used as a complementary technology to fill communication gaps. This technology can be leveraged by the Scottish Government in its plan to provide internet access across the whole of Scotland, especially in remote or difficult-to- reach locations.
Scotland now has its own regional downstream applications centre, the Scottish Centre of Excellence in Satellite Applications, supported by the Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell. Glasgow is a centre for building satellites due to the city's existing expertise in space technology.
There are plans for Scotland to become a hub for commercial satellite launches which could see spaceports open in northern Scotland from the early 2020s.
Implications for digital infrastructure investment
- Cloud Computing is an important component of the physical infrastructure for smart cities (including smart water systems, smart energy and utility grids, intelligent transport systems) which relies on sensor networks, as it enables greater sharing of resources and assets to help manage a complex system. Enabling cloud computing for smart cities includes investment in sensors, low-cost communication, real-time analysis and control and the horizontal integration of pre-existing services.
- Wireless (or wired) sensors and IoT networks form part of the smart city infrastructure e.g. sensors on street lights that enable environmental and traffic monitoring. As a result, the skills and capability to harvest, analyse and make actionable insights from generated data will become increasingly important. These skill sets within government agencies will have to be supported. The data can have value for consumers and intermediary companies, which means that the public sector may need to become more consumer centric, and/or better at identifying opportunities for joint partnering with private sector providers. Being aware of data privacy and ownership issues will also be ongoing.
- With the growth in interconnected systems and networks for transport, energy and healthcare, critical national infrastructure is increasingly a potential target for cyber attacks. The challenges around cybersecurity will need to shift from being perceived as IT issues to national or business risk issues. This will potentially require a shift in resource allocations and skill sets. Any emergency & resilience infrastructure will need to have a high degree of co-ordination and data sharing capability.
- The rise of smart cities will result in significantly more data being created. This means a need for significantly more capacity to transmit that data reliably and consistently. This may require investment in data centre capacity and better data management strategies. Service providers will provide seamless connectivity between terrestrial 5G and satellite communications. Technical standards should be designed for both terrestrial and satellite systems.
- For satellite based applications, investments are already proposed for Spaceports (e.g. Sutherland in Scotland). An operational spaceport would provide the UK with a key piece of infrastructure for the aerospace industry.
Key 5-year perspectives
- A 5G network will be a key enabler for fast and reliable data exchange to boost the potential of IoT and Big Data Analytics.
- IoT, smart sensors and photonics are already being implemented in Scotland and 5G can support the development of these technologies across other applications, such as wireless vehicle communications, by offering fast and reliable data exchange.
- Due to potential threats from cyber attacks, with the progressive adoption of digital technologies, we expect to see high implications for cyber security development, which is essential to ensure safety across public and private sectors.
Key 30-year perspectives
- Quantum technologies are currently in very early stage research. Commercialisation of these technologies could contribute to unprecedented speed in data access and exchange, advancing ultra-fast sensing and communication technologies.
- Blockchain could be adopted for cash-free, reliable and transparent transactions in the public sector. It also holds strong potential for adoption in businesses (in procurement and value-chain tracking) in Scotland and worldwide.
- Scotland is well positioned as a potential location for spaceports for satellite launches.
Implications for inclusive growth and the transition to a low carbon economy
- High-speed data transfer, including streaming of live events through 5G can make a significant contribution to employment opportunities and education and skills delivery.
- The development of digital technologies in Scotland is reflected in an increasing number of technology-related job positions, which are higher in average salary than the overall average for Scotland.
- The Digital Participation Charter of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations aims for more organisations to train their staff in basic digital skills to support inclusion by building more digital capability.
- Digital infrastructure can enable remote working, but there are downsides with new forms of employment putting pressure on wages and mobile technology making it difficult for workers to "switch off“.