The city of Glasgow highlighted a connection between the original and Fourth industrial revolutions as it discussed the importance of connectivity to its digitalisation plans during a presentation on a trial of 5G small cells by 3 UK earlier this month.

During his talk, city councillor and chair of the Digital Glasgow initiative Paul Leinster (pictured, fourth from left) noted the proximity of where he was presenting to the spot where renowned engineer James Watt refined the design of steam engines, in turn winning credit for powering the industrial revolution of the 18th century.

Leinster explained there remain parallels between this and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) the city hopes to tap into with the Digital Glasgow programme.

At the most simple level, the initiative aims to create new economic opportunities in and around the city alongside overhauling public services.

Launched in late 2018, the initial phase of Digital Glasgow resulted in more than 52,000 iPads being provided to schoolchildren; installation of 3,700 IoT-enabled intelligent streetlights; deployment of hundreds of kilometres of fibre; and, crucially for mobile operators like 3, the creation of a dedicated telecoms unit to smooth the process of bolstering connectivity.

Phase one of Digital Glasgow delivered a “real improvement” and “commitment to improving our digital infrastructure”, Leinster said.

He singled out the Glasgow Telecoms Unit as the “first of its kind in Scotland”, providing a “single point of entry for industry to the council”.

“As a result, infrastructure planning and deployment is relatively more cost and time efficient,” Leinster said, explaining this “in effect lowers the cost of doing business”.

These are only a few of the goals Digital Glasgow lists as the achievements of its opening salvo, but Leinster said more is coming as the project enters a second phase in which 3’s 5G trial could prove a key factor by eliminating current patchy coverage of the technology in the city.

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No aspiration can be hampered due to a lack of signal or a slow connection

Paul Leinster – councillor City of Glasgow

The next phases of the digital strategy involve focusing on “how we can use technology to meet the grand challenges that we’ve identified” around enhancing productivity, tackling climate change and “how we grow our economy in an inclusive way”.

This consideration of inclusivity is where the industrial revolution sparked by Watt’s advancements and any 4IR initiative inevitably intersect. Leinster explained the council is keen to ensure no-one is left behind by its digital vision, no job left un-replaced, no person left on the scrapheap as technology takes over their role.

The city’s philosophy invokes the Luddite movement of the 19th century, during which disgruntled textile workers advocated smashing the machines they believed threatened their manual jobs in the original industrial revolution.

Leinster noted any opportunity created by Digital Glasgow will come with challenges in terms of its impact on current employment, but he argued “through the opportunities of connectivity, we can also mitigate these risks, ensuring that where jobs are rendered obsolete, new ones are created”.

While technology and connectivity underpin any digital initiative, Leinster consistently emphasised the need for collaboration to turn theory into reality.

He cited the Glasgow City Innovation District as an example. A collaboration between the council, the University of Strathclyde, the city’s chamber of commerce and a pair of enterprise-focused public bodies, the programme focuses on developing 5G and advanced communications. This is alongside creating technology for fields including finance, healthcare, industry, quantum computing and even space.

It houses more than 1,600 businesses spanning various sectors: Leinster said occupancy of the district’s two main buildings is “at 100 per cent and there are plans in place to double the footprint and create innovation space with bespoke offices, laboratories and demonstrator space”.

The city council previously collaborated with the UK government and Smart Things Accelerator Centre on a £2.5 million public-private investment to make the city “Europe’s largest IoT innovation hub”.

Leinster asserted Glasgow “must be at the forefront of innovation” and ideas to fully take advantage of the 4IR.

“We must ensure that the talent of our citizens is harnessed and focussed and that they have the opportunities they need to put their skills and ideas into action”, he said.

The councillor noted such ambitions cannot happen without the “necessary connectivity” in terms of “coverage and capacity”.

“And no aspiration can be hampered due to a lack of signal or a slow connection”, he said, citing the potential of 3’s 5G small cell trial to deliver “improvements and opportunities” for the people of the city.

“We must ensure that there is no digital divide amongst our citizens, no matter what your background, your age or where you live, everyone in this city has access to the same opportunities to be part of our inclusive economy”.