Connected Britain: Using AI and digital twins on private networks
Held at London’s ExCel, Connected Britain is a two-day conference for the telco industry, OEM vendors and all those many leaders responsible for dealing with comms infrastructure in local and national government and public service organisations.
This year the event covered subjects including 5G private networks in enterprise, new technology protocols such as Wi Fi 7 and what start-ups in the industry can do to attract investment.
5G private networks, a moment for AI
While watching five or more panelists scramble between two microphones at an event that boasts connectivity proved temporarily distracting, the panel on deploying and scaling 5G networks helpfully brought delegates up to speed with 5G private networks.
In manufacturing and automation, Alex Foster, BT’s director of Division X, said that 5G private networking was something the industry has gotten down to a fine art, with ports.
“Ports are ripe. They’ve taken on 5G private networks to provide the smart, safe and secure worker, a port that runs 24/7, and that connectivity is taking data from sensors in a way that hasn’t been used before, which can then be interpreted using artificial intelligence,” she said.
She added that ports were beginning to exercise digital vision by taking visuals from CCTV, feeding it into graphic platforms and then marrying that data with AI to improve the productivity of equipment such as cranes.
According to Steve Douglas, head of market strategy at telco testing company Spirent, within ports and defence, companies were leveraging 5G private networks with high throughput and low latency for augmented reality. This, he added, enabled less experienced engineers to connect to experts off-site for advice.
Douglas added that factories using this technology were able to reduce expert visits by over 15% and have seen productivity gains over a yearly period of up to 3%.
Digital twins for networking
Douglas also explained how digital twins could be applied in the utilisation of private networks.
For large sites, he said “we are going to need some form of digital model of a private networking environment because some of these models are quite complex.
“Factories are going to want to reconfigure themselves, change their dynamics, the materials in the factory, and that may change how the network that was initially implemented has to behave.”
Douglas argued that it was not cost-efficient for businesses to always have engineers making on-site appearances and digital twins could be used to create models of the network environment, digitally implement changes and understand what those changes would mean for the real network.
The strategy exec admitted that marrying 5G networking with digital twins was “slightly slow off the mark” in comparison to other industries, but he added that it was an application which was “slowly starting to come into practice”.
“It’s really tied to keeping down the cost of the network, especially for small and medium businesses,” he added.
Trends for investment
Another stand-out, given the uncertain economic climate, was the type of tech attracting today’s investors.
As you might expect, given the buzz around Open AI’s ChatGPT this year, generative AI was a big focus, according to BT’s start-up growth manager Margaret Sheyindemi.
In terms of applications she said, “it’s all about productivity and how to improve internal processes.”
Other areas of investment were also being made around smart cities, sustainability and electric vehicles and ideas in immersive space, the BT exec added.
But whether start-ups happen to be in trending avenues or not, a shared issue for all was access to capital, particularly in the current market.
“A lot of founders are struggling and it’s pretty much a survival game,” admitted Ando Eniwumide, founder and inventor at event preview app, Happaning.
“Founders like me have had to look at things differently. We’ve pivoted and had we’ve to make cuts,” he added.
Sheyindemi advised seeking alternative financing – revenue-based or external funding, for instance.
She also advised start-ups to ensure that their houses were in order – making sure accounts were up to date etc., “and that you really show your value proposition in a story-like way, how you plan to expand and grow so that you’re de-risking for the investor”.
To round off day one, a five-person panel on connected healthcare looked at the benefits of healthcare monitoring and the challenges of bringing connectivity into the community where such devices may be used.
Alejandro Frangi, bicentennial Turing Chair in Computational Medicine at the University of Manchester, said: “Surgical colleagues tell me that if you were able to capture the lifestyle activity and the behaviour of a particular patient two months before surgery, you could pretty much predict the outcome of that surgery.”
David Gordon, senior consultant at STL Partners, flagged the challenges delivering in-home care and it involved network connectivity, which is also a similar problem at hospitals. The solution, according to Gordon: “investing in some robust 4G and 5G networks.”
Looking at new technology in the space, Frangi claimed there was “a huge opportunity” for AI to boost operational efficiency, as well as diagnostics and therapy.
“In a typical hospital you have six, seven operating theatres but there are some pieces of equipment that are very expensive which you don’t have in each theatre, so what you would need to have is some sort of planning of resources about where that equipment needs to be,” he said.
Frangi envisioned the UK as a place where companies in Healthtech trial innovative technologies so UK citizens can be the first to reap the benefits – but currently that’s not the case, he said with Asia and the US leading the way.
“Connectivity can also create virtual populations of patients to test technologies and roll-out, pretty much like we rolled out the Covid-19 vaccine. We can specifically look at diversity in different socioeconomic backgrounds and deliver technology that has been tested on a much larger scale.”
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