COVID-19 has affected all of our everyday lives in some way or another, from how we go about our work to how our youngsters are educated and those of us unfortunate enough to be ill are treated.

And the changes will continue to affect us across a range of sectors, according to the man tasked with accelerating the deployment and adoption of 5G technology in Scotland.

Paul Coffey is CEO of The Scotland 5G Centre, which works with various partners, businesses, the public sector, universities and communities in Scotland and across the UK, to capitalise on the opportunities and benefits of the latest generation of mobile communications. He started his career on the first graduate training scheme run by mobile service provider Orange – now EE – eventually becoming its head of strategic development, where he played a key role in establishing the UK’s first deployments of 4G in rural communities.

Through his own consultancy he advised public and private sector organisations on how to take advantage of the latest wireless technology to deliver goals and increase business value.

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The new 5G technology has been developed to cope with the huge growth in data and connectivity of today’s society, the internet of things (IoT) with its billions of devices, and innovations still to come.

Speaking to The National, Coffey highlighted the five ways he saw 5G bringing a bright future to Scotland, starting with the perennial problem of rural connectivity.

Here, he said, more people and businesses will get faster data connections thanks to Scottish Government investment and the building of up to 40 mobile masts in rural “not-spot” locations, where obtaining a signal is difficult – if not impossible.

“Further impetus – and confidence – is also heralded by the OpenRAN programme which will open up the market to a new breed of suppliers, leading to new business models focused on finding innovative solutions for rural deployment,” he said.

“Industry observers believe that this new breed of network will deliver cost reductions of up to 30% – making rural Scotland a much more attractive prospect and enabling people to make choices about how and where they work and live.

“Security is also being beefed up with the new Telecoms (Security) Bill which has further layers of security to protect the industry and end users.”

Next on Coffey’s top five to watch is transport, where 5G-enabled drones will likely play a bigger role in monitoring our transport networks during, or after, severe weather, to which Scotland is no stranger.

“Real-time road sensor systems will play an increasingly important role in terms of road safety and making best use of road maintenance resources,” said Coffey.

“Indeed East Renfrewshire Council, supported by the CENSIS innovation hub, is already trialling a smart monitoring system on roads in Barrhead which, if successful, could be rolled out across Scotland.”

One of the most significant uses of the new technology would be in healthcare, where the existing infrastructure has proved its worth during the pandemic.

He said healthcare promises to be one of the “key uses” for the early adoption of 5G: “It is already evident that utilising 5G applications outside traditional hospital environments to deliver health and social care is creating significant benefits for our healthcare system.

‘INDEED, the pandemic has greatly accelerated digital consultations – with positive results. Examples include online consultations, applications to monitor health, plus remote administering of medicines. This brings rapid and accurate digital healthcare provision within the reach of the wider rural population.

“Access to high-speed digital connectivity is no longer a luxury reserved for those in urban areas; 5G has the potential to deliver a safer, healthier, better connected society, with reduced healthcare costs and improved overall health.”

Coffey said the pandemic’s impact on live sport had been “brutal” and there was little prospect of any improvement or relaxation of restrictions in the near future.

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However, he said 5G could help change that: “The ability to offer alternative experiences to engage fans is a key focus for broadcasters and network operators as we head into 2021. I anticipate progress towards ‘immersive’ experiences, where 5G will enable people to digitally connect with family and friends to watch their favourite sport via the same cameras – from their sofas.

“Broadcasting of local or minority sporting events will also become more common thanks to 5G-enabled cameras.

“The creation of a lower-cost business model will, in turn, throw a lifeline to smaller venues and sports clubs, giving them access to new revenue streams.”

Last, but not least, in Coffey’s top five is the construction sector, where 5G would revolutionise how workers do their jobs and transform building sites as we know them.

“Where construction sites often struggle with internet connectivity, 5G will see ‘private networks’ deployed, enabling not just basic connectivity but also a revolution in how sites are managed, from health and safety to logistics,” he said.

“Site managers will soon be able to record, store and send high-quality video information at the blink of an eye. This will provide construction organisations with the means to manage huge volumes of information, reducing the need for on-site presence.

“5G-enabled scanners are already being tested that can detect if construction site workers are wearing the correct PPE and this is only the beginning.”