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'Engineering and politics are the twin drivers of progress' – Shadow minister Chi Onwurah MP

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

6 min read Partner content

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) hosted the 10th annual briefing in the House of Lords attended by MPs, peers and communication technology professionals.

2018 marks the tenth anniversary in a series of successful annual briefings to discuss policy matters involving communications and the information economy.

This event was held by the IET Communications Policy Panel, which provides impartial advice and guidance to Policymakers and Government. The Panel draws on the experience of some of the most knowledgeable and respected engineers in the field of communications from industry, academia and the public sector.

The purpose of the event was to brief attendees by top engineers about likely future developments in communications and what they mean for the country, as well as to provide an opportunity for a discussion about the likely consequences. The event also focussed on how a digital UK would give all citizens, places and businesses access to the physical infrastructure they need – such as energy, transport and digital.

With ever more reliance on delivering a robust and secure communications network, as an enabler for the Industrial Strategy for the UK, the speakers sough to describe what will happen in the future. An important aspect of this will be the implementation of a joined-up approach to 5G roll-out - one that reaches across silos and allows for a truly connected UK.

Lord Broers, the former House of Lords Science and Technology Committee Chair and former Cambridge University Vice Chancellor welcomed guests and said:

"These meetings have been extremely important - I think they're important for all of you professionals here who are the experts, so that you can meet here and have help parliament understand what is going on"

On the topic of the event 'Connecting People - maximising the user experience' he added: "Technology is still evolving and we are right at the transition, going from 4G to 5G and to Industry 4.0 as well".

The IET’s Prof Will Stewart who was chairing the event referred to the important work of Sir Charles Kao, who he referred to as ‘the Father of Fibre optics’. His original paper was published by the IET in the mid-1960s. He referred to the international nature of top level research by speaking about Sir Charles’ background:

“This guy has a real claim to have created the modern world. It is a fantastic achievement.

He was also born in China, worked in the UK, married to a British engineer, and also had US citizenship”.

Professor Stewart introduced the 3 speakers with three talks on key aspects - on what ‘quality’ services will need to look like in the future to deliver what we need. Secondly, looking at the impacts on society and the challenges these pose, and lastly the way smart cities will evolve in the future.

He added that the IET was promoting an initiative to DCMS and Ofcom with wide industrial support, aimed at ensuring that the benefits reach out to all, especially in rural areas, and encourage maximum innovation. More details are here

Chi Onwurah MP, the shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation referred to her own career as an engineer for 20 years before she entered parliament, chartered by the Institution of Engineering and Technology who she added were “also kind enough to make me a fellow”.

She said of her two career choices: “Engineering and politics are the twin drivers of progress”.

Ms Onwurah referred to the two real challenges for the Engineering and Technology sector for itself and policy makers:

“When you come to data, giving people control and ownership of their data, I don’t really see the tech sector and particularly engineers stepping up to how that would work in practice. It is too much to expect people to read 30 pages of terms and conditions and manage their own data, but if data isn’t under the control of people, were not going to be empowering them”.

She concluded:
“As shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, one of our ambitions is to create an innovation nation. Innovation technology as part of our DNA and culture but for that to happen, for that to work it’s not just about solving the skills crisis, it is also about making sure technology is more humane, more representative, because its designed by people who are representative”.

Gavin Young, Head of Vodafone’s Fixed Access Centre of Excellence spoke about the quality of experience in the Gigabit era 

“We are now living in the era of Gigabit broadband. Gigabit speeds have become available on several fibre networks in the UK. This fixed network capability will soon be joined by much higher mobile speeds as 5G deployment gets underway”.

He added:
“A Quality Broadband approach can also lead to more cost-effective networks and more efficient use of capital. Fortunately, the tools and techniques already exist to take broadband to the next level.

Sylvia Lu, 5G Tech Lead, u-blox spoke about ‘Future Communication - What’s human about this?’

“Today, we are surrounded by wireless technology. We rely on it to keep us connected, no matter where we are and what we do. The new era of 5G will stretch the capabilities of the mobile infrastructure across the world well beyond the capabilities of current wireless access technologies. This will open up new applications and services for various verticals, immersive, industrial, consumers and automotive industries – but will also present significant challenges.

She added:

“The scale of the success of 5G will be determined by its impact on society. The key to unlock the full potential of new technology, particularly in this new era, does not lie with the technology alone. A ‘human-centric design’ approach will help us deliver future communication networks that work for all citizens, and connect everyone and everything in delivering a more sustainable and prosperous future.

Larissa Suzuki Senior Product Manager for Automatic Machine Learning at ORACLE spoke about ‘The role of 5G in AI-powered Smart Cities’:

“The infrastructure of cities has evolved through many eras of technology, often separately. This lack of connectivity can make city utilities and services operate sub-optimally, limiting the creation of new value-added services and challenging the efficiency of existing services.

She added:
“5G will be the key to unlocking the fast and precise interactions in smart environments, providing extreme connectivity and capacity at the edge of networks supported by a multigigabit-per-second speed, location accuracy and ultra-low latency. Though we have many infrastructure issues to address, the ability to connect and process information in real time will unleash the power of AI to realise the vision of Smart Cities”.

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