5G IA: 5G innovation and digital transformation

5G IA: 5G innovation and digital transformation

Colin Willcock, Chairman of the Board at 5GIA, discusses 5G innovation, digital transformation and the impact of COVID-19...

Graduating with a doctorate in parallel computation in 1992, Colin Willcock, Chairman of the Board of the 5G IA, began his career in a small telecoms consultant company working with multiple major companies including Siemens and Alcatel in the area of test equipment. Dr. Willcock moved to Nokia in 1999 where he has held various positions in research and standardisation. In 2017 Dr. Willcock was presented with the opportunity to be the representative for Nokia in the 5G IA board where shortly afterwards he took over the position of chairman. 

Established in December 2013, Dr. Willcock explained that “5G IA’s ambition is to be the voice of the European industry on all things 5G, including research, development and deployment. As well as the big players within the industry such as Nokia, Ericsson and Orange, the 5G IA also includes SMEs, academics and research institutes. We've got the whole ecosystem within the association and we try and work with the European Commission quite closely to develop the best strategies for Europe when it comes to 5G. One of the main things we concentrate on and the initial reason for the creation of the association was the running of the 5G public private partnership (5G PPP), so the 5G IA is responsible for industrial side of this key research partnership between the public and private sectors to bring leadership in 5G research.” 

Over the years, the 5G PPP has worked on multiple projects which have set the foundation for the industry’s understanding of 5G. “One of the key results from the 5G PPP projects has been the creation of pre-standardisation consensus. This consensus has encompassed what the key functional blocks and requirements should be, as well as what 5G should do and what 5G should be. “The 5G PPP program will run for seven to eight years. In the first phase which covered the first three to four years we have been doing fundamental research into 5G. The second phase was centred around bringing this 5G technology to other industries outside of the classical telecoms sector such as automotive, healthcare, media, industry 4.0, smart cities and smart agriculture, to drive digital transformation and to make sure that the European industry is competitive by using this technology.” Dr. Willcock explained that, “the promise of 5G is to use this technology as the enabling glue to make a truly digital society, both commercially within industry, but also from a societal point of view as an infrastructure to tackle key societal issues. In 5G PPP phase two, we have worked with many big names from the vertical industries - Volvo, BMW, ABB and Siemens. For such companies 5G is not their core business. Connectivity is important to them, but not necessarily central. In this second phase we've been putting the ideas together from both the vertical industries and the telecoms industries to come up with better solutions for the future. We have shown them that it is worth investing in 5G technology”

Talking about the third phase, Dr. Willcock said “I think we've demonstrated the power of 5G and the need to invest in the technology. In phase three, what we're trying to do is build a 5G innovation platform, where players within the industry such as innovative SMEs, can develop their ideas on a 5G platform. The concept is to drive the next innovative ideas by giving them access to 5G technologies to show that it works.” 

In addition to driving the development and adoption of 5G, Dr. Willcock explained that “while we’re still very much at the beginning of the 5G story, we have just had a call for project proposals to look beyond 5G. We have created the first versions of the 5G standard and are now in the process of evolving the technology to fully support the non-telecoms vertical industries. However, the network technology evolution will not stop with 5G and we want to make sure that we start looking at 6G early enough to ensure Europe can retain its leadership role in this domain”.

When it comes to working with organisations to drive transformation and innovation within their operations, Dr. Willcock explained that, “obviously digital transformation is at the heart of what the 5G IA does. We are trying to bring leadership in digital transformation and 5G technology to Europe and then deploy that technology across the world. We've got dozens of industries working together to show how digital transformation can help and trying to show that it is worth investing in. So, it's very much at the heart of what we're doing, and I think we can claim quite a lot of success in driving digital transformation through the 5G PPP collaborative projects. These projects have also focused on other key transformational areas like standardisation.”

One key element Dr. Willcock believes is often underrated is the concept of culture and mindset. “The problem is that industries are often only interested in short term technological solutions – this often leads them to apply the solutions of yesterday to the problems of tomorrow – this is often true when they are considering communications technologies. But if you look at the difference it makes to apply advanced communication technologies, like 5G, in terms of things like improving the process from the point of sales, through to manufacturing, to delivery, the potential advantage is huge in terms of money saved. The reality is, if you don't move to that technology, there is a danger you will no longer be competitive. Too often the current culture and mindset is focused on the financial report for the next quarter or the quarter after that. This short termism means it's often very difficult to see the medium-term picture and the huge advantages.” 

This is where Dr. Willcock believes that the investment made by 5G IA demonstrates the advantages of applying future looking technologies and investing in digitalisation. “the 5G PPP projects gives a chance for organisations to actually look beyond short-term goals, and actually see the bigger picture, and hopefully then that will enable the mindset in those companies to be more open, to invest in more advanced technologies and gain competitive advantage”. 

As technology evolves, Dr. Willcock believes that along with the evolution the importance of communications technology continues to increase. However, with this increased importance, “one needs to be careful because technology in isolation often does not solve problems. It's technology, together with the ability to apply it, the right regulatory environment and investment that can determine success. And with this increased importance, the security and protection aspects become ever more critical. If we look to the future, in five years 5G will be one of the fundamental networks tying our world together, from the automated car driving on the highway, to healthcare and energy systems, driving digital transformation.”  

Colin Willcock