Information Management In Public Services

Greenwich enters into smart city innovation partnership

Neil Merrett Published 27 July 2016

University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre will share technical and regulatory expertise with the authority to set out new standards and technologies to transform services

The Royal Borough of Greenwich and the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) at the University of Surrey have entered into a partnership to develop ‘smart city’ technologies with an eye to potentially moving towards establishing a national facility to expand work across the UK.

Working alongside Digital Greenwich, the boroughs’ in-house smart city team, the innovation centre will look at the infrastructure, regulatory and technical needs of stakeholders to underpin initiatives to transform public and private sector service delivery through focuses such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and data sharing.

“The partnership leverages world-class 5GIC research and innovation, and will provide the foundation for next generation digital technology, standards and services in a smart city context,” said a statement announcing the partnership.

Smart city is a term used to describe the broad concept of combining technology and data to try and implement more cost efficient, sustainable services and information in areas like transport, healthcare and environmental protection.

While 5GIC will help provide the technological foundations to support test bed sites for Digital Greenwich and wider commercial trials, the council will in turn offer a smart city incubator space to bring together stakeholders to work on projects with implications for a number of public functions.

Professor Rahim Tafazolli, who serves as the director of 5GIC, said the agreement would build on the organisation's work since 2012 around IoT technologies and network architecture to support private and public service providers to innovate in a broad number of areas like transport and health.

Tafazolli argued that the focus was not without challenges, particularly around bringing together various stakeholders from different sectors like local government and utility companies to talk and collaborate to overcome traditional siloed approaches to working.

“From a technology view, some applications will be more challenging than others, therefore security and policy initiatives need to be in place,” he said.

Tafazolli added that issues such as network security would be particularly important to changing long standing regulatory processes that might support more collaborative approaches to service innovation and development.

He argued that clear security and privacy measures were central to the design of 5GIC’s testbed areas that are being used to trial initiatives. 

Tafazolli said that as part of the agreement with Digital Greenwich, real-time projects were already underway in a four square kilometre testbed area as a means of creating a working trial.

Funding was also identified as a pressing concern for smart city initiatives to ensure that projects could be scaled up and expanded. According to 5GIC, it has secured £70m already from private investors and government funding for its wider work.

In looking at creating next generation smart city applications, Tafazolli said that robust communication systems would be vital to ongoing work.

“Working with Digital Greenwich will enable the 5GIC to develop solutions targeted at multiple use cases in a city context,” he said. “The partnership will also provide the foundation to drive standardised solutions for all of the UK to benefit from the technology.”

Alongside the current partnership with authorities in Greenwich, Tafazolli said consideration was underway over the possibility of a national facility where standards and smart city technology could be developed to curb duplication of work and costs for stakeholders while enhancing opportunities for connectivity and interoperability.

As opposed to focusing solely on the broadband implications of 5G, the professor said the decision to connect a test bed with Greenwich would support a more ambitious approach to how infrastructure can support innovative services.

MP Matt Hancock, recently appointed as minister of state for digital and culture, claimed that Britain was a world leader in the development of 5G technology.  Hancock said this focus would be further strengthened by partnership projects such as the collaboration between Greenwich and the University of Surrey.

“Collaborations like this will help make our cities better places in which to live, to work, and to play," he said.

Councillor Denise Hyland, leader at the Royal Borough of Greenwich said 5GIC would serve as a “valuable catalyst to our comprehensive smart city strategy”.

“I am confident that this engagement will help strengthen our economy and deliver the best possible services to Greenwich businesses and residents," she said.

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