Building a city as a platform: Mike Barlow, Nokia

7 min


c. Joe Stubbs, Unsplash

Though the pandemic has shone a spotlight on a lack of connected, fibre-to-the-home infrastructure in lower income and urban areas, Nokia’s city as a platform premise seeks to work with the city as a whole, and improve the lives of those who need it most. Government and Smart Cites sales director, Mike Barlow, tells more

We have all had to make changes to the way we live and work in the past six months. But compare our response in 2020 with our capabilities in 2010. It would have been impossible to stay connected without UC platforms we have today.  Deployment of cloud services to drive remote working would have been impractical. So, for a small portion of the population, those able to operate effectively remotely, the response has been pretty good.

Mike Barlow, government and smart cities sales director, Nokia

What has become clear, as is so often the case, is that the less affluent have been hit hardest and we drastically need to drive improvements in areas such as home learning, remote health and social care services – and these services require quality, consistent and cost-effective connectivity. We need to drive full fibre connectivity to everyone – especially in social housing, which typically make up 25-30% of residences in UK cities.

How do we get ourselves into a position that means next time this happens we leave no-one and nowhere behind in accessing the key areas of education and health – especially those that need it most? How do we make our cities more resilient? How do we expand that city resilience to encompass those most in need?

The challenges are greatest in lower-income areas, the lack of access to a connected device capable of being used for online learning can be a key driver in widening the digital divide. The latest figures for the UK nationwide is only around 12% of full fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connectivity, compared to between 70-80% in our European neighbours such as Spain and Portugal. Conversations with UK city leaders highlight some of the greatest challenges facing connectivity in public services through lockdown: one elected city leader remarked how she has tens of thousands of school kids, isolated at home, who cannot afford, or do not have access to, sufficient connectivity.

A fully digitised health and social care practice shows its value through remote health monitoring and the capability to manage a patient’s health remotely, so they can be treated for and cared for in their own home. This reduces putting themselves, and others at risk by receiving face-to-face primary care. In contrast, a lack of fibre deployments and weak digital infrastructure can have devastating impacts to feelings of loneliness and on mental health, particularly in older people, who are unable to use online communications to see and speak to family & friends.

One elected city leader remarked how she has tens of thousands of school kids, isolated at home, who cannot afford, or do not have access to, sufficient connectivity

And, though it is great to have the ability to work from home, stripping away all the daily stresses that office working may bring, remote working is a very different concept for an office worker in an affluent, fully-connected four-bedroom home, compared to a single parent in a one bedroom flat in lower income urban areas.

Mike will be presenting on behalf of Nokia for Quadrant’s Bouncing Back seminar on 29 October at 9.30am. Click here to register!

City as a platform

There are three main outcomes for residents that cities are trying drive, utilising digital connectivity: driving economic stability and growth, reducing the digital divide by providing inclusivity, and creating a connected infrastructure to easily deploy applications at scale to those who need it most. Every city wants to build resilience in their communications networks, and they ask us: ‘How can we make ourselves more resilient for when this happens again.’ (They are using the word “when”, not “if”). There is a perception that it might not be a pandemic, it might be something else, but they need to do something to make their city more resilient.

From Nokia’s perspective, the technology is there, and enhanced connectivity, and the improved services that come from it can be also be there, and are being delivered today. Where these are being delivered, this tends to be testbeds, pilots, and proofs of concepts – so relatively small scale. Lack of connectivity prevents cities from deploying more broadly. Also, the complexities of public sector procurement and budgets mean that it may take several use cases to justify an investment, or the cost sits in a different budget pot than the benefit.

c. Glenn Carstens-Peters, Unsplash

What Nokia is proposing is the city as a platform premise: to deliver a platform at scale, including fibre, mobile connectivity, integrated city operations, and an IoT and data plane that anybody can use on an open-access and neutral host basis.

For example, if you were to look at the governments ‘levelling up’ agenda – take one of the northern cities, and use it as a pathfinder city, where joint investment from government and from the private sector builds an infrastructure that is a horizontal platform. An open-access neutral host network upon which the city or any operator can build whatever applications they want. For example, applications to encourage more active lives, so that people have more time for wellbeing. Or for smarter healthcare. Or it could be for connected education for the people that need it most. It would also make business as an industry more productive.

We are looking to roll out projects that are long-term based upon long-term funding; delivering financially self-sufficient infrastructure investments to target 100% connectivity across the city

We are looking to roll out projects that are long-term based upon long-term funding; delivering financially self-sufficient infrastructure investments to target 100% connectivity across the city. If you look at the city as a whole, you work with the city, and you bring in the right delivery and investment partners, you can build a business case to justify delivering to everyone – thereby helping those who need it most.

Building resilience

One city leader we have spoken to said if we had the city as a platform in place already, we’d be able to deal with the pandemic much better. It is a great compliment to the proposition, but it is hindsight. In city authorities, the pandemic has focussed people’s minds on preventative planning for the future. What we’re seeing now is a shift in emphasis – in one city, the director of place within a city council, has become the director of resilience. It has focussed the mind.

The challenge now is to put in place a City as a Platform, so when, in 10 years’ time something like this happens again, we will be ahead of where we are today. For me, the focus should be on putting in place infrastructure, applications, and services that benefit those people who get impacted most by these major incidents. The white collar workers who work from home are already catered for.

It’s the elderly and vulnerable: how do local governments cope with loneliness agenda, where one recent study found that, in the initial period of lockdown, a staggering 49-70% of respondents reported feeling isolated, left out, or lacking companionship?

The focus should be on putting in place infrastructure, applications, and services that benefit those people who get impacted most by these major incidents

It’s also about protecting our care workers. The more people that we can enable to manage their health from home in these instances, the less strain there is on the NHS, the less strain there is on care homes – so what have we got to do to build it so that in 10 years’ time, we can look back and say we are prepared to be able to handle another incident like the pandemic of 2020?

It’s the young – giving them a flexible way of learning regardless of whether they can be physically in school or not.

Nokia’s city as a platform proposition provides a refuge these groups. Long before the pandemic, these were the challenges of every city we talked to. COVID has served to focus on the need for enhanced connectivity to drive city resilience. Without that foundation stone providing resilience for those that need it most, is practically impossible.

Smart Cities: Nokia


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