The ‘substantial’ economic, social and environmental benefits that enhanced 4G and 5G capability could bring to Scotland have been highlighted in a new report.
The Deloitte report, commissioned by the Scottish Futures Trust (SFT), suggests that if Scotland capitalises on the opportunities presented by enhanced connectivity, national GDP could be increased by up to £17bn in just over 15 years.
Annual tax revenues could also rise by around £5.7 billion as a result of up to 3,000 new businesses employing 160,000 more people, the report also claims. The publication of the study coincides with the Scottish Government’s 5G Strategy announcement, which outlines Holyrood’s plans for boosting 4G and 5G capability across the country.
During a visit to Glasgow University’s School of Engineering, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon commented: “Our 5G plan sets out the actions we believe are needed to ensure as much of Scotland as possible shares in the vast potential growth on offer. Our aspiration is to position Scotland as a 5G leader and a forward-looking digital nation.
“5G offers rich potential – opportunities to enhance Scotland’s global competitiveness, achieve economic growth and drive innovation across our public and private sectors.”
The First Minister added: “There are huge potential gains for the public sector if we embrace technologies such as 5G. We believe this will be a catalyst for further public sector transformation, enabling high quality, user-focused and efficient services that are driven by data.”
Non-stop connectivity delivered through 5G networks could help improve access to healthcare and education across Scotland, deliver “seamless multi-modal transport experiences” and reduce energy consumption and costs through smart, integrated energy grids, according to the study findings.
Commenting on the report findings, Derek Graham, programme director of SFT’s digital infrastructure team, said: “The Deloitte report highlights the substantial benefits that Scotland could realise by fully embracing the potential opportunities that improve digital connectivity and future 5G technologies can offer.
“Having access to seamless digital connectivity is paramount to securing inward investment where extensive cross-sector collaboration will be required to facilitate the development, demonstration and commercialisation of key use cases to encourage the private sector to invest further in Scotland.”
New use cases enabled by 5G, which could have “profound implications for Scotland”, were also highlighted by the report. Given that Scotland has a relatively low population density – with around 330,000 residents living in remote rural areas – the potential benefits of remote service delivery could be “particularly significant” in Scotland with regard to healthcare, for example.
Boosts to efficiency and patient engagement in health and social care are predicted through increased 5G connectivity, with current initiatives exploring the use of in-house sensors to monitor patient health.
5G connectivity throughout Scotland’s transport networks may also support passenger productivity, offering a “more integrated, user-friendly and seamless transport system”. Similarly, public service delivery in urban areas could be improved in the context of “smart city” use cases, the report noted. Initiatives in Glasgow, for example, are exploring the deployment of smart lighting and water management systems.
All of this, however, relies on seamless digital connectivity throughout the country. The Scottish Government-funded Reaching 100 programme, which aims to extend fibre broadband coverage to 100% of premises in Scotland, is predicted to play a key role in achieving this ambition of future-proof connectivity throughout the country.
The benefits of largescale digitalisation, the report also concedes, will require “long-term commitments” by policymakers and industry in order to address significant challenges.
Paul Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, said: “I welcome this publication which, in setting out the economic case for investment in next-generation mobile connectivity, provides strong support for the Scottish Government’s new 5G Strategy. We are taking forward a collaborative approach across the public and private sector to ensure that Scotland fully realises its potential as a forward-looking 5G nation.
“Working closely with Scottish Future Trust (SFT) since 2014, we have used industry insight and experience to develop our £25 million Scottish 4G infill programme. I look forward to continuing this successful partnership with SFT, who will be an integral part of the delivery team behind our 5G strategy to ensure Scotland can gain the economic and social benefits of this important enabling technology.”