BT Blog: How local government can lay the digital groundwork for growth

CCN Blogs | 22 August 2023

Laying the digital groundwork by connecting communities is a key responsibility of local authorities, and the right foundations can attract investment and drive inclusive growth

“If you build it, they will come” is a regularly quoted line by many. Often used in relation to innovation and providing an environment that empowers others to build and grow, it’s actually a misquote from the 1989 film ‘Field of Dreams’. Originally said by character Ray Kinsella (played by Kevin Costner) in relation to a baseball field, the line is arguably now more famous as its incorrect counterpart.

Connecting communities is a key responsibility of local authorities and the right foundations can attract investment and drive inclusive growth. There are currently three UK cities (London, Bristol and Oxford) ranked in the top 20 European hubs for startup investment – a fair reflection of innovation in an area – and making this list requires various factors in place, including a strong, digital groundwork.

But how can local authorities do this at a time of economic challenge? Through a different approach to technology adoption and deployment. Communities have experienced a digital ‘glow up’ before, with the rollout of broadband fuelling new capabilities. Now a new approach to mobile connectivity – and 5G in particular – can have the same profound effects. In fact, there are a number of trials taking place across the UK to prove this.

BT is working with Leeds City Council to make it the largest gigabit and 5G-capable city outside of London. On announcing the partnership, Councillor James Lewis, Leeds City Council’s executive member for resources, said, “Rolling out full fibre in Leeds will mean quicker, more responsive public services for our residents and attracting more high-quality jobs to the area, as businesses are keen to invest in cities with 5G connectivity.”

Laying the digital groundwork for smart cities

The phrase ‘smart city’ sparks imaginative thoughts of flying autonomous cars, but the reality is far more grounded. Examples showcasing how mobile connectivity can be used as the foundation for innovation which delivers real community good can be found across the country.

In Belfast, BT is working with Ericsson to make Belfast Harbour the world’s best regional smart port, with a 5G private network introduced to drive operational efficiencies and accelerate its digital transformation. Simultaneously, Sellafield Ltd is collaborating with BT to take on network responsibility at all its locations in order to take advantage of new technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and 5G.

Hertfordshire Living Lab is a test bed ecosystem to show how the region can be boosted with 5G. While residents in a Scarborough care home are trialling how to live more independently through smart sensors on key access points so staff can notice any unusual patterns. Another example is the University of Stirling is developing ‘Forth ERA’, an ecological site using IoT sensors, satellite data and artificial intelligence (AI) to monitor and enhance green recovery.

For smart city capabilities to become a reality for more, having a digital layer that prioritises connectivity is critical.

It’s a stance the Government shares, setting a target of having gigabit broadband available nationwide by 2030. This will be achieved through “full-fibre connections, high-speed cable broadband and potentially 5G networks”.

This means there is no one way to deliver connectivity, but it instead requires a convergence of fixed and mobile deployments to create ubiquitous coverage and supercharge communities. More granularly, that equates to a mixture of fibre, macro, and small cell deployments which combine to deliver the super-fast futureproof connectivity that can support the innovation and growth of generations to come.

Ubiquitous connectivity that delivers for all requires a different approach

To support the increasing demand for connectivity, local authorities should turn to partners which can help them to deploy solutions faster and use existing assets more effectively. Simply adding more of the same to grow output has its limitations.

For example, when looking to boost network performance and range, traditionally local authorities have looked to individual mobile network operators (MNOs) which have focused on macro deployments. This has supported 3G and 4G, but as 5G looks to become the prominent network, delivering benefits across reliability and speed requires a different network composition. One that is more cost-effective, faster to deploy and commercially viable, something that has been a challenge through the years.

Small cells have the ability to bring high-speed mobile connectivity to all, they’re able to support macrocell networks, which can deliver greater bandwidth in more focused areas, and can be deployed at speed – on existing street furniture and council assets – so they can begin to generate benefits for the local community and return on investment (ROI) faster.

We’re also witnessing the future of small cells being developed. C-RAN (Cloud Radio Access Network) architecture delivers providers with full flexibility and control over the composition of deployments. With advantages including centralising the processing so it can support multiple radio units across a region. Like a composer leading an orchestra, local authorities can enable the deployment of more powerful networks at a greater scale. Meanwhile, the evolution of Neutral Host small cells provides a ubiquitous, multi-operator end-user experience which lowers the cost and carbon footprint of deployment.

Ubiquitous connectivity means everyone benefits, and it brings 5G closer to where it’s needed, unlocking innovation.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. Technology that doesn’t benefit all can’t deliver fully on smart city initiatives and ultimately widens digital, social, and economic gaps.

While progress is being made to bring industry players together, local authorities require another approach to deliver for communities now. Providers such as BT Wholesale work with all MNOs and the wider industry to develop solutions and services that deliver advantages for everyone, while its partnerships with the likes of Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow councils means it has a deep understanding of how local authorities can deliver for communities.

Ultimately, if ‘build it and they will come’ is a mantra that local authorities can adhere to, it’s time to consider super-fast, reliable connectivity as vital infrastructure. Communities need to be connected both physically and digitally. When connectivity deployments cater for all from ideation, it ensures networks are fully accessible – providing the digital groundwork which attracts innovation and growth.

Ian Newbury,

Mobile Business Development Director,

BT Wholesale