Wireless 2030 – GOV.UK

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Published 10 January 2023

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A scenarios analysis of public service demand for wireless connectivity in 2030.
More definitions can be found in the supplementary annex.
Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
The early 1990’s saw the introduction of the first mobile internet, thanks to second generation mobile phone technology (2G). Since then, technology has progressed at an unprecedented rate. Not only is mobile broadband in its fifth generation, 95% of the world’s population now have access to a mobile broadband network and 88% are accessing 4G networks (International Telecommunication Union, 2021).
Mobile networks have become critical national infrastructure because of the vital public service applications they underpin. Each generation represents a step change in capability, coverage and quality of service, never has this been greater than for 5G. 5G, distributed through standalone infrastructure, has wide reaching implications for society, from remote surgical procedures to autonomous private and public transport vehicles. 5G infrastructure will also require significant investment. So alongside making such an investment, the UK will also need to assess the potential benefits and risks, identifying the supporting policy that might be needed to maximise the benefits we derive.
Demand for connectivity is driven by a range of factors, from the quality and variety of digital services available, to public trust in technology and attitudes to use of personal data. The future in these areas is highly uncertain but will have a significant impact on how easy it is to achieve wireless policy objectives, so considering alternative scenarios is essential. This report aims to do just that; articulate 4 future worlds in which to test and plan wireless public services that are resilient to different future outcomes – to help government achieve its objectives for society and keep the UK competitive on the global stage.
Sir Patrick Vallance
Government Chief Scientific Adviser
Wireless connectivity has become increasingly critical for different aspects of our lives, from keeping in touch, to getting around, to accessing a range of important services. This report sets out the evidence on the critical uncertainties around demand for wireless connectivity and the implications for delivery of wireless public services in 2030. These uncertainties are combined into a set of scenarios that can be used to help develop more resilient policies.
The report highlights 4 key areas for consideration in the design of policies that develop or make use of wireless connectivity.
Public support and service provider engagement are just as vital to shaping future demand as providing infrastructure. Both are key to avoiding a future in which infrastructure is not fully utilised and the potential benefits from public service transformation are missed. Policymakers should consider measures to stimulate demand for connectivity in the public sector in addition to encouraging the market for infrastructure supply.
There are risks to a high-innovation, high-adoption world. Our scenarios highlight that an ‘always-on’ digitally connected culture could have ramifications for online safety and population health and wellbeing. Managing network and digital service resilience in such a connected world could also be a challenge and missing the mark will undermine public trust. If this is the future policymakers find most attractive, action should be taken to manage these risks.
Some public use cases would be held back more by a lower wireless infrastructure ambition than others. Some public use cases demand much more bandwidth than others, for example remote patient monitoring and autonomous vehicles. It follows that lower coverage ambitions could hinder these use cases most. There is risk that underestimating demand could inhibit progress, with infrastructure the key limiting factor relative to other barriers.
Levers that balance supply and demand would be a useful addition to the wireless policy toolkit. The scenarios highlight the risks of supply and demand for wireless connectivity being out of balance, and the benefits of getting this balance right. These scenarios can be used by DCMS and other government departments to explore the supply-side policy levers (infrastructure) and the demand-side policy levers (digital public services) that could be used in different circumstances to mitigate risk and maximise benefit.
GO-Science developed these Wireless 2030 scenarios in collaboration with experts in academia, industry and other government departments. Using tried and tested futures techniques, the scenarios are designed to stretch our perception of what could happen. They uncover possibilities for the future, risks and opportunities that we may otherwise not see.
The project started with a horizon scanning exercise, which revealed 63 drivers of change in the wireless connectivity landscape, driver mapping highlighted 26 of the most critical and uncertain drivers which were grouped into a set of key themes likely to affect the 2030 wireless landscape:
The Wireless 2030 scenarios were constructed using 2 ‘axes of uncertainty’ – critical uncertainties whose different outcomes (either end of the ‘axis’) can be combined together to create plausible and distinct scenarios . These axes are described in Table 1 below:
Table 1: Wireless 2030 scenario axes explained – how the critical uncertainties relate to scenario construction
On the X-axis, the technology and connectivity landscape is either mature, ubiquitous and well-integrated or immature, stretched and scrutinised. Evolution rather than innovation drives infrastructure upgrades.
On the Y-axis, citizens and organisations are either engaged, skilled and reliant on connectivity on a large scale (generationally and geographically) or fragmented, sceptical and at the very edge, opt-out of digital living entirely.
Plotting these variable environments against each other produced a 2×2 matrix that set out 4 future worlds, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Wireless 2030 scenarios.
Four potential future scenarios for the wireless landscape in 2030 have been developed to help stress-test government wireless policy.
An overview of each of the Wireless 2030 scenarios is provided below:
In addition to the scenario narratives, a quantification of potential demand signals in each scenario was undertaken. This considered 14 use cases spread across 6 sectors: culture, education, environment, healthcare, security and transport.
The aim was to analyse a set of important digital or wireless enabled transitions underway in each of these sectors and understand the range of plausible wireless demands from these applications by 2030. This analysis demonstrated that some public use cases would require much more bandwidth that others, so would be held back more by a lower coverage ambition, as illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Variation in Wireless 2030 public sector use case data demands.
This illustrative analysis explores how public sector demand for selected use cases varies across the scenarios. It does not provide a comprehensive estimate of total demand.
These scenarios and our analysis are intended to be used by DCMS and other government departments to make better, more resilient wireless policy. This report outlines 3 ways the scenarios can be used to interrogate policy and strategy development, as in Figure 3 below.
Figure 3: Three ways to apply the Wireless 2030 scenarios to strategy development.
Each exercise is highly customisable and can be applied at the beginning, middle or end of strategy or policy development. More detail on how to use these scenarios can be found in Chapter 5 of this report.
Background and an overview to the Government Office for Science’s Wireless 2030 project.
Wireless infrastructure relies on electromagnetic waves – oscillations in electrical and magnetic fields at right angles to the direction the wave is travelling. Every electromagnetic wave has a frequency, measured in Hertz or Hz (wavelengths per second). These frequencies, in order from lowest to highest, are known as the electromagnetic spectrum (Figure 4, below , outlines approximate frequencies of common applications ).
Figure 4: Schematic of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Electromagnetic waves can transfer energy from the source of the wave to an absorber. Communication networks make use of radio waves split into ranges or ‘bands’. UK mobile networks typically use frequencies between 800 MHz and 3.6 GHz (approximating 8 x 108 – 3.6 x 109 Hz). For context, Wi-Fi uses frequencies between 2GHz and 5GHz.
In wireless infrastructure, wireless devices can communicate with each other or communicate with a wired network (Manganaro & Leenaerts, 2013). Wi-Fi is an example of wireless infrastructure because a Wi-Fi-enabled device, such as a laptop, is able to pick up radio signals being transmitted by a router located in a home or business. Mobile networks, also an example of wireless infrastructure, use cellular towers to transmit data between devices. Mobile networks can also be used to broadcast Wi-Fi signals to connect non-cellular devices to the internet.
The capability of the cellular network depends on the type of network connection. Currently for the UK, this includes:
Figure 5: 4G vs. Standalone 5G network architecture.
The future of telecoms is complex and uncertain. 5G represents a significant upgrade in network capability and will deliver higher peak-data speeds, ultra-low latency and massive network capacity. Some applications of 5G are able to run on the UK’s current 4G network infrastructure (non-standalone 5G), but truly revolutionising uses, that will underpin a digitally and data driven economy, require the functionality of standalone 5G network infrastructure.
5G has created renewed interest in private networks – networks that are just used by a specific set of users, either within an organisation or local area (for example, a science park). Some private networks are valuable in the public sector as well as the private arena when considering shared office building and data centre facilities. Private networks need to be designed across technology and telecoms boundaries. This necessitates consideration of the effect of convergence and greater data use across these traditionally separate regulatory boundaries.
The current global backdrop provides important context for the UK’s future wireless outlook, because developments in network technologies, platforms and practices are often driven by large multi-national companies and by the demands of the largest global markets. However, the UK has the potential to shape such developments, particularly in areas of strong existing capability. Key considerations include:
The governments Integrated Review (IR) (Cabinet Office, 2021) set out an ambition to take a more active approach to building and sustaining strategic advantage through science and technology (S&T), using it in support of our national goals and enhancing UK influence. The IR described adopting the own-collaborate-access framework to guide government activity in priority areas of S&T, determining where the UK would seek to have leadership and ownership of new developments.
The IR identified the future security of UK telecoms networks as an area that required an active approach from government: to diversify the 5G supply chain; mitigate risks from high-risk vendors and ensure network resilience. Clearly, the development of future technology is a critical part of this agenda. However, it will also require consideration of how best to use the opportunities future network technologies provide – as citizens, in the economy and in the delivery of public services. This report is a contribution to that agenda.
DCMS is developing a Wireless Infrastructure Strategy and coverage ambition, which will help to set out the future of 5G and 6G in the UK. They commissioned a longer-term analysis from GO-Science to address the question:
What is the future of UK demand for wireless connectivity, and how might this shape public service delivery out to 2030?
Working with expert stakeholders, both internal and external to HMG, the GO-Science Foresight team have developed a set of high-level 2030 scenarios. These alternative, plausible futures form part of the evidence gathered for the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy. They are also intended as contextual backdrops for other government departments to explore and assess strategic implications for their own priorities and policies.
The Wireless 2030 project addresses a number of evidence gaps and helps HMG to develop strategies for meeting ambitious objectives in the face of uncertainty. This project set out to explore a range of issues:
The scope of this project is intentionally broad and flexible to capture edge cases. While the time horizon is 2030, infrastructure provisioning is a long-term investment, therefore it is important to consider the effects of near-term policy decisions on society beyond 2030 . For the purposes of this project, the following domains were considered within scope:
Domains considered out of scope of the Wireless 2030 project: The focus of the scenarios is on public service demand and not on corporate resources of public institutions (for example back-office IT). However, we have captured cases where wireless networks will support private use of public infrastructure, for example, transport applications. Work to understand non-public sector demand is being carried out in parallel to this study by colleagues in DCMS.
Figure 6 provides an illustrative overview of the Wireless 2030 project methodology, which was based on methodology described in the GO-Science Futures Toolkit (Government Office for Science, 2014).
Figure 6: Wireless 2030 project process timeline.
(Figure 6 – see full size image)
The section below provides a breakdown of the information provided in Figure 6 in an accessible format:
WHAT is happening?
Step 1 – Knowledge Audit: GOS & DCMS undertook an evidence deep dive & further desk research
Step 2 – Expert 7Q Interviews and Survey: Including CSAs, academic, public & private sector experts
Step 3 – Driver Mapping: Synthesis of evidence gathered into a long-list of political, economic, societal, technological, legislative & environmental drivers shaping the future policy environment
WHAT could happen?
Step 4 – Expert Workshop 1: Identifying Key Drivers & Critical Uncertainties: Scoring of drivers to identify those most important & uncertain. Clustering key drivers to identify critical uncertainties & developing axes of uncertainty.
Step 5 – Rationalising Key Axes of Uncertainty: Process of elimination (top-down) & impact mapping (bottom-up) approaches used to draw out the most plausible & interesting axes of uncertainty pairings from which to build scenarios.
Step 6 – Scenario Development: Building of scenarios and underpinning with assumptions based on key drivers & expert descriptions of axes of uncertainty developed in Workshop 1.
SO WHAT for public service delivery?
Step 7 – Expert Workshop 2: Challenging Assumptions & Adding Richness to Scenarios: Participants provided vital challenge & insights into how public services may be delivered & used in the 4 worlds. SWOT analysis of scenarios to establish assumptions & elucidate scenario parameters.
Step 8 – Quantitative Modelling: ‘Light touch’ Excel-based model developed & applied to a diverse range of public sector use cases, illustrating the breadth of potential wireless connectivity application. Provided insight into public sector uptake, usage & data demand across the scenarios (not an assessment of service quality or total demand).
NOW WHAT for strategy?
Step 9 – Internal & External Challenge: Review of scenario narratives, assumptions & quantitative modelling by stakeholders with public sector specific expertise.
Step 10 – Application to strategy & policy: Tools/guidance developed to enable policy-makers to apply scenarios in policy & strategy development. Workshop held with DCMS to identify implications for & stress-test aspects of the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy.
Five of the most critical and uncertain drivers of change and 14 public sector use cases used to explore the wireless infrastructure landscape.
GO-Science carried out a Horizon Scanning exercise, drawing on desk research and 15 expert interviews (using the 7 Questions methodology), to identify a long-list of 63 drivers of change; evidenced trends and weak signals likely to shape future wireless infrastructure in the UK. This evidence, structured into key political [Po], economic [Ec], societal [So], technological [Te], legislative [Le] and environmental [En] drivers shaping the future policy environment formed the basis of our first scenario development workshops.
GO-Science conducted the initial uncertainties workshop with over 40 experts and stakeholders from industry, academia and government. The drivers of change were mapped against 2 axes – their importance to the wireless landscape in 2030; and uncertainty in their outcome. The drivers in the top right quadrant (most important and most uncertain) were the critical uncertainties from which to develop the scenarios. These critical uncertainties were grouped into a set of key themes likely to affect the 2030 wireless landscape:
Governance agenda – How infrastructure and ‘experience design’ decisions are made and by whom.
Public perception – The extent users interact with systems and trust providers.
Network design – How the network is distributed and directs flows of data and investment.
Sustainability and resources – The availability of resources including energy and the UK’s ability to support innovations to market.
Stores of value – How people, business and broader sectors will derive and exchange value via new wireless capabilities.
These themes are discussed in more detail in the following sections, describing each critical uncertainty and its different possible trajectories towards 2030. Evidence and sources used to create the critical uncertainties can be found in the annex.
Fourteen public sector use cases were selected to enable an analysis of the important digital or wireless enabled transitions underway in each of these sectors and understand the range of plausible wireless demands from these applications by 2030. Desk research was carried out to provide an assessment of maturity and a theoretical outlook for these use cases and is described in Table 7, at the end of this chapter.
Government will play a key role in shaping the future of wireless infrastructure. But it is important to treat government action differently to other forces and factors considered within our critical uncertainties and scenarios, as the scenarios will be used by government as ‘backdrops’ to test the resilience of such interventions (wireless strategies, policies, investments, regulations). We have aimed to develop the scenarios in a way that focuses on contextual factors, external to government policy, in order to make this testing more straightforward.
The following key principles have been followed:
1. Governance agenda
How infrastructure and ‘experience design’ decisions are made and by whom.
How authorities and companies manage and use spectrum, supporting infrastructure and digital spaces has changed significantly. For example, 80% of recent investments in new cables has flowed from 2 US tech giants rather than telecoms firms (Ball, 2021) (uncertainty [Po04], Table 2).
Data protection differs in many ways between territories and jurisdictions, producing an ecosystem of overlapping, applicable rules and redefining the exercise of sovereignties (Government Office for Science, 2020). To complicate matters, data has unusual properties and data value chains are highly nonlinear (De La Chapelle, 2021) (uncertainty [Po07], Table 2Table 2: Critical uncertainties with the governance agenda theme). Such uncertainties include:
Table 2: Critical uncertainties with the governance agenda theme
2. Public perception
The extent users interact with systems and trust providers.
Public perception is a major factor influencing demand on wireless networks and highlights the critical issue of trust in governments, service providers and the technologies themselves. Building trust in a technology can increase its uptake among the public (AlShahrani, 2019). This stronger public trust, and resulting wider adoption, could unlock the potential for new models of engagement and communication (AlShahrani, 2019) (Xin Li, 2008) (Tammy Bahmanziari, 2003).
Improved accessibility and transparency can build trust. In some locations, ubiquitous connectivity has given rise to reimagined democratic systems, for example, Taiwan’s GovZero platform (uncertainty [Po06], Table 3). Whereas the spread of misinformation, such as via social media, can undermine trust (uncertainty [So08], Table 3).
Such uncertainties include:
Table 3: Critical uncertainties associated with the public perception theme
3. Network design
How the network is distributed and directs flows of data and investment.
The future shape, structure and design of wireless networks is uncertain – there are unknowns around openness, distribution, resilience and data flows.
This theme also explores the issue of the inequality in geographical coverage of networks and whether this will persist. Projections suggest that £12-26 billion could be added to the UK’s economy by successfully unlocking the digital potential of rural areas (Wilson, et al., 2018) (uncertainty [So04], Table 4).
How users access services is changing. During the third quarter of 2020, chat and messenger apps recorded the highest user reach with close to 91% of internet users worldwide using these types of apps (Ceci, 2022) (uncertainty [So13], Table 4).
Such uncertainties include:
Table 4: Critical uncertainties associated with the network design theme
4. Sustainability and resources
The availability of resources including energy and the UK’s ability to support innovations to market.
This theme captures critical uncertainties in the UK skills base, international dependencies, supply chain, investment and commercialisation challenges.
Demand for and reliance on digital skills is rising rapidly but participation in relevant courses has declined in schools, and employer investment in skills remains low. 1 in 3 employers say their workforce lacks the advanced digital skills needed (World Skills Uk, 2021) (uncertainty [Ec10], Table 5).
Increased energy consumption from networks may offset efficiency improvements. Some of the world’s largest data centres consume more than 100 MW of power, the equivalent of 80,000 US households (Hall, 2022) (uncertainty [En02], Table 5).
Such uncertainties include:
Table 5: Critical uncertainties associated with the sustainability and resources theme
5. Stores of value
How people, business and broader sectors will derive and exchange value via new wireless capabilities.
The digital economy now represents a substantial share of the UK’s economy, contributing £148 billion in 2019 (Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, 2021). New business models have emerged, that challenge the status quo. For example, some supermarket chains are piloting checkout free shops, with RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) tracking being trialled at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Amazon Go, whilst Aldi trials facial recognition technology (Evening Standard, 2022) (uncertainty [Ec07], Table 6).
Advanced mobile networks have the potential to positively impact business productivity, by enabling automation, AI optimisation and technological solutions to operational challenges. For example, a Deloitte and MAPI study found that 86% of manufacturers believe that smart manufacturing initiatives will be the main driver of manufacturing competitiveness in 5 years (Deloitte and MAPI, 2019) (uncertainty [Te04], Table 6).
Such uncertainties include:
Table 6: Critical uncertainties associated with the stores of value theme
Wireless use cases
When thinking about how public sector demand for wireless infrastructure may change out to 2030, it is important to consider what it could be used for. 14 public sector use cases were selected to address the question; ‘what are the key digital/wireless enabled transitions underway in each of the service areas we cover?’. Assessments of the applicability of each use case, its maturity and 2030 outlook, shown in Table 7 below, were developed through desk research before being reviewed by a small group of experts from government and industry .
Table 7: A description of each public sector use case and its technological maturity
[Key: High = available in the market now, Medium = likely to become available in the next few years, Low = availability uncertain or speculative].
Building scenarios that are stretching yet plausible from axes of uncertainty.
There are many ways to define, develop and work with Futures scenarios. Regardless of methodology, content and time horizon, they are a well-established and valuable tool for strategic planning. Scenarios are never predictions, rather a way to imagine different versions of the future, explore how they could be brought about, identify the risks and opportunities they represent and decide what we should do now as a result.
The Wireless 2030 scenarios have been developed by honing-in on critical uncertainties related to the future of wireless technologies, the wider telecoms landscape and other factors shaping our world. Each uncertainty has alternative and extreme, yet plausible ‘end states’. A scenario is built from a combination of end states that feel coherent and could happen yet present us with different and interesting conditions.
Of course, none of the scenarios will individually or perfectly describe the ‘real’ future, which will likely feature elements of all these worlds. Getting strategic value from scenarios requires suspending your disbelief.
As you read each scenario, you can:
Scenarios are often constructed using 2 or more ‘axes of uncertainty’ – critical uncertainties whose different outcomes (either end of the ‘axis’) can be combined together to create plausible and distinct scenarios. The 5 critically uncertain themes, described in Chapter 2, were analysed in terms of their importance to each other using ‘impact mapping’ and ‘process of elimination’ techniques. This helped to draw out the most plausible and interesting axes of uncertainty parings from which to build scenarios . These axes were titled ‘level of technological innovation’ (as illustrated in Figure 7) and ‘attitudes to connectivity’ (as illustrated in Figure 8):
X = Level of technological innovation, covering the following themes:
At each end of the X-axis, the technology and connectivity landscape is either: Mature, ubiquitous and well-integrated. Innovation barriers are removed to see a seamless convergence of wireless and wired infrastructure, leading to a proliferation of new services and growth in demand. Or; Immature, stretched and scrutinised. Evolution rather than innovation drives infrastructure upgrades and regulatory and investment challenges limit exploration of next generation networks
Figure 7: Scenario matrix – X-axis.
Y = Attitudes to connectivity, covering the following themes:
At each end of the Y-axis, citizens and organisations are either: Engaged, skilled and reliant on connectivity on a large scale (generationally and geographically). Or; Fragmented, sceptical and at the very edge, opt-out of digital living entirely.
Figure 8: Scenario matrix – Y-axis.
Four scenarios were constructed from the axes of uncertainty described in Figure 7 and Figure 8. These were underpinned with assumptions based on the critical uncertainties and expert descriptions of the axes of uncertainty developed through a workshop process. Figure 9 describes an overview of the key features of the 4 2030 worlds.
Four potential future scenarios for the wireless landscape in 2030 have been developed to help stress-test government wireless policy
An overview of each of the Wireless 2030 scenarios is provided below:
Considering distinct and stretching scenarios enables policymakers to ensure strategy is resilient and less vulnerable to future shocks. As you read through these divergent Wireless 2030 scenarios, contemplate the risks, opportunities and consequences of each scenario and how policies might address them . Table 8 describes the implications of each of the scenarios on the public service areas highlighted as within the Wireless 2030 project scope in Chapter 1.
Table 8: A comparison of the public service delivery implications across the Wireless 2030 scenarios
Considering distinct and stretching scenarios enables policymakers to ensure that strategy is resilient and less vulnerable to future shocks. An analysis of the differences between the Wireless 2030 scenarios was carried out to confirm that they were distinct from one another. Expert contributors were also asked to consider whether the Wireless 2030 scenarios were sufficiently distinct and stretching, and their feedback was implemented in the final scenarios. Figure 10 provides a visual demonstration of the key differences between each of the Wireless 2030 scenarios.
Figure 10: Wireless 2030 scenario variation.
(Figure 10 – see full size image)
Visual demonstration of the distinctions between each of the Wireless 2030 scenarios. The table below provides a breakdown of the information provided in Figure 10 in an accessible format:
Scenario rating (Low = 1; Low/Medium = 2; Medium/High = 3; High = 4)
A ‘light touch’ Excel-based model was developed and applied to each of the public sector use cases set out in Chapter 2, Table 7. This was carried out by first estimating the demand on wireless infrastructure if each transition reached its maximum, plausible 2030 level. Then, a series of expert-informed judgements were made about how much the factors set out in each scenario would attenuate that transition by 2030 (see supplementary annexes for more detail on the methodology).
This has provided a rough estimate of scale demand in each scenario, as well as an insight into public service uptake, usage and data demands across the scenarios. It is not an assessment of service quality or total demand.
Figure 11 sets out the high-level results from our analysis. Some use cases, such as smart grids and patient monitoring, are likely to have low data demands per user or per transaction, so even in very high uptake scenarios these applications are unlikely to be constrained by wireless bandwidth. Conversely, use cases such as Virtual Reality (VR), remote medical procedures and Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) are likely to have high data demands, so it is possible that uptake of these use cases could be constrained if wireless infrastructure coverage and bandwidth are insufficient.
It is important to note that our analysis is based on average daily demand and bandwidth across the UK so, in such constrained situations, it is plausible that high demand use cases could be adopted in the best-connected places, but not universally. In addition, ensuring that all parts of the UK are brought up to the current best available level of connectivity could be sufficient to enable widespread adoption of some of the lower demand use cases.
Quantification of these Wireless 2030 public service use cases has enabled a comparison of the scale of demand for a sub-set of use cases across the scenarios, rather than a comprehensive estimate of total demand. This approach was chosen to fit with the short duration and budget of this project, and to complement DCMS’ more comprehensive programme of analysis to provide total wireless demand forecasts. The Wireless 2030 quantitative metrics support DCMS’ analysis by:
Figure 11: Variation in Wireless 2030 public sector use case data demands.
This illustrative analysis explores how public sector demand for selected use cases varies across the scenarios. It does not provide a comprehensive estimate of total demand.
Four future worlds in which to frame public service delivery.
Four future worlds have been created to help policy makers test their proposals wireless infrastructure and identify implications for public services. For each scenario, a detailed narrative has been developed, along with other resources to help bring them to life for policy makers. In these slides, each scenario will be showcased using the following structure:
Rich Picture – an artist’s impression of the scenario, showcasing different aspects of life in that world.
At a glance & use case technology roadmap – a brief summary of the scenario, with a sidebar showcasing which technology use cases are widely used in that world, underpinned by the connectivity requirement and accessibility in the scenario.
Narrative & 2030 scenario features – provides a detailed description of the scenario; its consequences, benefits, winners and losers. A figure is included describing some underlying assumptions about how that world might look.
Key Insights – an illustrative summary of use case data demands; selected to help draw out the consequences of each scenario and demonstrate which public service areas are driving data demand (these are not a comprehensive forecast of demand). Post-it notes quote expert comments from Workshop 2 and provide an insight into public service delivery in each scenario. The side bar shows how public sector use case demands vary across the scenarios.
Personas – a snapshot of the possible lives of 3 different people in that world; these aim to further demonstrate the positive and negative consequences, and the winners and losers in each scenario.
Figure 12: An artist’s impression of a Slow Progress world.
Figure 13: A summary of key innovations in the Slow Progress scenario.
(Figure 13 – see full size image)
Features of this world…
Figure 14: A summary of the key features of the Slow Progress scenario.
The COVID-19 pandemic represented a compressed period of technological advancement and behavioural change; citizens, businesses and government adopted hybrid working, virtual socialising, and e-commerce as a necessity.
Looking back on those turbulent years, the lack of face-to-face contact and associated mental health issues have shown some citizens that the benefits of connectivity are not worth the lack of control and feeling of isolation. Growth in UK demand for technological innovation and network evolution has plateaued. There’s been a general push-back against social media companies and data-sharing, demonstrated by a mass-deletion of social media profiles in protest. Commercial strategies are now driven more by taking time to understand what outcomes people really want and less by the next shiny thing that is being marketed – resulting in more considered and inclusive conversations between companies and consumers.
This is proving frustrating for many industries, entrepreneurs and technophiles. Operators have been forced to maximise legacy network life, slowing advanced network rollout and resulting in patchy, unreliable networks and a reliance on ageing tech for critical systems. Advanced home and complex industrial internet of things (IoT) has not been fully realised. Businesses continue to suffer reduced productivity growth from missed automation and data driven decision-making opportunities. Even when innovative connectivity solutions do arise, it is hard to retrofit them into an ageing system and their full potential is seldom realised. Many digital UK public services are off shored to digital providers based in other countries; talent and investment diverts elsewhere, and reliance on foreign tech has increased.
In an effort to equalize access, mobile coverage in rural and peri-urban areas has improved a little. The small numbers of people who embrace digital living are able to develop new skills and harness the ability to access digital services such as telemedicine. However, disinformation is rife among those that shun digital living, resulting in vandalism of infrastructure and an unwillingness to use public digital services.
Figure 15: Data demand key insights – Slow Progress scenario.
(Figure 15 – see full size image)
A summary of insights into data demands in the Slow Progress scenario, from a quantification analysis of Wireless 2030 public sector use cases. The table below provides a breakdown of the information provided in Figure 15 in an accessible format:
Mary, 34, Wolverhampton
Mary checks her phone as she waits for the next tram into Birmingham. She is partially sighted, and her phone tells her which tram to catch. Once onboard, it will also tell her when to get off and which door to exit from. The tram and several tram stops on Mary’s route have been equipped with a transport accessibility solution to provide real-time information for those who need more help when travelling on the West Midland’s public transport network, enabling independent journeys for the visually impaired. The system works well but was first trialled nearly 10 years ago and has changed little in the intervening years. More advanced connectivity solutions for the blind and visually impaired, such as ‘telenavigation’ using 5G, have progressed slowly or not at all. Technologies such as 5G-connected smart glasses, which pair with smartphones and AI providing real-time audio feedback to help the blind navigate independently, are simply not available in the UK.
William, 18, Halifax
The school careers advisor suggests that he should apply to university. William isn’t sure. He’s keen to take advantage of virtual education platforms that seamlessly incorporate VR into learning and allow an individualised educational experience, but most UK institutions have reverted back to (safe/secure) face-to-face teaching. He might not have as much digital experience as his friends from last year’s school trip to Germany, but he’s worked hard to achieve qualifications in maths and computing and his ambition is to work in the digital gaming industry. He feels torn – he has a strong attachment to the UK but wonders whether he should abandon his principles and join the ‘brain drain’; a trend where the best teachers and students move abroad to countries where 5G networks enable the use of Edtech. At institutions in cities such as Singapore, Berlin and Boston Massachusetts, low latency wireless provision enables students to use VR technologies to learn technical skills from the best teachers around the world in a realistic environment. After all, he reasons, ‘I can always return to the UK when it’s caught up a bit more’.
Maureen, 68, rural Kent
Although a spritely 68-year-old, Maureen is starting to feel the twinges of age and is concerned about early signs of arthritis. She calls the GP on her 7-year-old mobile (the technology has hardly progressed, so what’s point of changing it if it still works?) and makes an appointment to see the doctor that afternoon. The NHS is still reliant on in-person care, but that’s OK, Maureen prefers the personal touch – particularly after the recent scandals around the data breaches allowed by the UK’s ageing infrastructure. Maureen starts thinking about her current situation; her cottage is on the edge of the village and public transport is patchy at best. Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) is a long way off and she worries about how she’ll get around and cope living on her own. In Sweden, her daughter-in-law monitors patients remotely via networks of connected IoT sensors in their homes. Maureen is conflicted; she doesn’t like the idea of sharing her health data, who knows what it might be used for, but she wants to maintain her independence. She wonders whether swapping the convenience of London for the rural idyll of ‘The Garden of England’ in her retirement was such a good idea, or even whether she’d be better off moving to Sweden.
Figure 16: An artist’s impression of an impression of an Unmet Promises world.
Figure 17: A summary of key innovations in the Unmet Promises scenario.
(Figure 17 – see full size image)
Features of this world…
Figure 18: A summary of the key features of the Unmet Promises scenario.
The majority of the UK have accepted digital living as a right and seek to gain value from advanced connectivity and web services. However, innovation and commercialisation challenges mean the applications of standalone 5G infrastructure, promised by clever marketing, are just out of reach for UK citizens. With digital living universally embraced, the level of digital literacy rises in the wider population. Demand for late 4G/early 5G applications has driven improved coverage beyond cities, and improved digital skills across a range of age groups has reduced the generational divide. Data sharing is widespread as users opt for convenience over data protection measures. The technology to fight cybercrime has fallen behind that of attackers, so cybercrime is high and ‘dark web’ networks are able to circumvent regulation.
People desire digital services more than ever; they’ve seen what’s possible elsewhere in the world. But ‘5G’ is still more of a marketing term than an actual promise of revolutionised connection speed and quality. Even where coverage is good, networks often struggle to cope with data volume demands, creating problems at large events, where users struggle to access important mobile services such as online banking. Companies shout ‘the future is now’ … but jazzy wearables, connected vehicles and Smart home appliances are still pretty dumb. They talk to users, but not to service providers, and certainly not to each other.
UK students are disillusioned with the learning services on offer and the entrepreneurial ecosystem dries up. The UK job market has not adapted to a global demand for novel software development and engineering. Streaming media is at an all-time high but cannot recreate the experience of live arts. Personal monitoring devices are popular among citizens; health data tracking has, for some, become obsessive and digital living is beginning to take a mental toll. Tech adoption among industry grows but sectors cannot harness the power of advanced network infrastructure without going private. Private companies are using private networks to demonstrate that they can deliver public service better than public entities.
Figure 19: Data demand key insights – Unmet Promises scenario.
(Figure 19 – see full size image)
A summary of insights into data demands in the Unmet Promises scenario, from a quantification analysis of Wireless 2030 public sector use cases. The table below provides a breakdown of the information provided in Figure 19 in an accessible format:
Stephen, 48, Geneva
Stephen removes his XR headset and picks up his iPhone to facetime his wife. He works 5 days a week in Geneva as a security software engineer for Deutsche Bank. The company asked him to relocate to Switzerland 5 years ago as the security and capacity of his connection stopped him from carrying out his job effectively in the UK. It was decided that his wife, Orla, and their son Jake (who, at the time was 10) would stay behind so Jake could finish his studies. More recently, Jake and his mum flew over to Geneva for a visit and Jake made a friend who has a game design studio at his school. Jake is video-game obsessed but there’s nothing like that at his school. Orla passes her phone to Jake who, as usual, complains about how boring he finds school. Halfway through explaining that he wishes he could come and live in Geneva, Jake freezes and Stephen has to wait a few minutes before he can call back. Stephen wonders if leaving his family behind was such a good idea after all.
Anita, 35, Manchester
Anita’s just heard from the practice manager that 80% of the patients at the GP practice where she works have signed up for UBHealth – the latest digitised health monitoring system. She is worried about Natalie who’s been contacting the practice a lot lately. It looks like she’s been monitoring her stats obsessively with her app and Anita is concerned she might be developing orthorexia or hypochondria. It happens, all this data in real time can mean people spend their lives checking their heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygen levels, etc. instead of enjoying themselves. Anita has had to refer more and more patients to local support groups and prescribe medications for health anxieties. ‘It’s a tough call whether the app is a help or a hindrance – while users are able to see the benefits of an improved lifestyle, it doesn’t seem to be helping people feel good about themselves’ Anita says to her practice manager who’s too busy checking his phone to offer a reply.
Marie, 86, Hampshire
Marie lives in an apartment in Barton on Sea. Six years ago, fibre optic broadband was installed so her whole building could get faster connectivity. Marie was dubious at first. Unfortunately, in the early 2020s she was inundated with spam calls to her landline and learnt to be wary of upgrade offers after sending money to a fake internet provider. But Johnny from the floor above really brought her round having worked in cybersecurity since the 00’s. Johnny told her about ‘AnyLearn’, an initiative to help adults upskill with online classes – this really changed things for Marie and her friends in the building. They are now able to use apps to monitor their health, book appointments, connect with family, order groceries and use connected transport. In addition, Marie feels more comfortable living alone as she is able to monitor her apartment’s security via a smart doorbell.
Figure 20: An artist’s impression of an Us & Them world.
Figure 21: A summary of key innovations in the Us & Them scenario.
(Figure 21 – see full size image)
Features of this world…
Figure 22: A summary of the key features of the Us & Them scenario.
What tech commentators describe as the ‘Covid Catalyst’ brought about rapidly accelerated behavioural and technological change in the UK, but only in pockets. Sophisticated sensing networks and countless private small cells have been installed in areas of high population and connected entity density. The most advanced technologies can be seen in software development and entertainment companies, large scale manufacturing sites, high-end residential and private vehicles/vessels. From their increasingly smart, responsive and even moving spaces, urbanites who can afford ubiquitous connectivity enjoy streaming, gaming, catching up with loved ones’ avatars or simply talking their voice assistants through their to-do lists. Businesses with open-minded, deep-pocketed shareholders profit from greatly enhanced operations and productivity. UK innovators are having a field day; the Global Ideas Exchange (GIE) is just getting off the ground, which will attract more investment and see more UK citizens making their mark and their money in other countries.
The public/private rural/urban divides widen – urban dwellers that can afford private services win whereas rural dwellers that access less advanced public services loose. Those with ‘connection-privilege’ hire unconnected cars to holiday in the countryside; it’s too dangerous to use CAVs ‘off-smart -roading’. In smart cities there is good access to connected public services (for example, smart waste management, smart law enforcement, smart traffic management) as well as commercial services, such as same hour drone deliveries. Meanwhile, rural dwellers struggle to access efficient services and have to wait for delivery drivers; next day delivery is the best they can hope for.
Privileged children in connected urban areas are exposed to smart spaces and gain a digital skills edge on their peers. If those without this experience are lucky, they’ll land in businesses and trades that will re-train them and get lassoed into the Metaverse as e-artisans. At worst they will lack the connectivity to access those spaces in the first place. They’ll join the older and rural population who can’t engage as digital citizens and are locked out of essential service provision by the international tech giants. In urban areas, a few people try to steal ID to get some level of service, fewer still attempt to hack systems or physically damage cables, masts and cells. Rural residents who don’t see the benefits of new forms of connectivity won’t allow enhanced physical infrastructure anywhere near their land. The ‘digital withdrawal’ movement gathers pace in some rural areas.
Figure 23: Data demand key insights – Us & Them scenario.
(Figure 23 – see full size image)
A summary of insights into data demands in the Us & Them scenario, from a quantification analysis of Wireless 2030 public sector use cases.
Margot, 41, East London
The concierge desk of the apartment block illuminates with a notification as she passes. She reads the desktop surface: “Good evening Margot, auto-renewal of OurCloud in 14 hours. OK? See tenancy terms?”. Margot’s downstairs neighbour had been complaining about the service charges for the ‘brain’ of their building, but for all its cheesy phrases and relentless updates it had saved her bacon more than a few times. Just yesterday it picked up a theft of her e-ID (peddling identities in the SubVerse has become quite common, apparently). Since the E1 street furniture pilot in certain postcodes, OurCloud metaconferencing kit can be used in AV transit – there is no way she is giving up that time-saving perk. Her hand hovers over ‘OK?’ and she feels the affirmative double buzz in her wrist.
Keith, 66, Salford
His wife’s right – it is a very snazzy box. And quite big for the tiny piece of kit it contains. Keith’s 5G hearing aid was a (bank-breaking) Christmas present to himself and does some clever audio processing to make conversation clearer, even in busy restaurants or his noisy warehouse. It sends regular ECGs to his doctor too, so he doesn’t need to wear that fussy watch anymore. He would have forked out for one for George, his brother-in-law, if the thing had worked up in Kendal – but it’s about as useful there as a normal unconnected hearing aid. Plus, George reckons these gizmos steal all our bank account details. Bizarrely, the same folks who made the hearing aid are selling ‘factory digital twins’ to Manchester-based companies – Keith’s been promised an upgrade which will help to automate production and optimise energy, but he’s wary; he doubts anyone in his business knows how to fix a ‘twin’, and software and robots won’t throw him a good retirement party…
Nadia, 16, Hereford
The cloud competency exam is the final hurdle. Ace this and she’ll be off – London, Palo Alto, Singapore, Taipei… wherever the company wants to send its apprentices… maybe they’d pay for her family to visit physically? Or at least for the occasional holograph? Nadia snaps back from her daydream to the task in hand, skipping through ads until the video instructor is back. “Once glasses are secured, candidate must align vision field with edges of tablet”, says the instructor. Nadia knows lots of the people she’s up against will be used to SmartClassrooms; her state school out in the sticks can’t have them. In fact, she’s only worn AR engineering kit once before, and people in the canteen laughed uncontrollably at the photo. They won’t be laughing when they can’t afford the things she creates and are stuck driving their dumb cars to their kids’ disconnected classrooms… maybe they’ll be the ones heading off to the highlands to join the digital withdrawal movement.
Figure 24: An artist’s impression of a Seamless Citizen world.
Figure 25: A summary of key innovations in the Seamless Citizen scenario
(Figure 25 – see full size image)
Features of this world…
Figure 26: A summary of the key features of the Seamless Citizen scenario
After years of struggling to realise a safe and equitable digital economy, the pioneers of the new Digital ID and Digital Welfare framework have made themselves heard. The framework aligns public and private players around the idea of connectivity as an essential utility. New cross-sector partnerships have enabled the rollout of wireless infrastructure and improved service delivery across the country.
Neither geography nor digital literacy constrain the movement of people and capital. A diverse market has emerged, which prioritises user-centric design of shared and private spaces, surfaces and systems. Data is a valuable resource; companies such as ‘Gener8’ have enabled users to take ownership of the monetisation of their own data and the trade in personal data is booming.
The switch to digital currency has accelerated in recent years; early investors have seen big returns on their capital. Being part of a cashless society has become the norm, although the physical disconnect has caused some societal issues, relating to personal management of finances, particularly in younger generations. Industry is being revolutionised by newly autonomous and remote solutions and the advancing UK tech scene has attracted serious talent and investment.
AI has enabled new and retained health data to be seamlessly collated, modernising the UK care system. Mobile 5G hubs ensure that emergency service responders have constant communication with control centres and patients in rural areas can be easily monitored.
The augmented workforce is facing some challenges, however. Many citizens attempt to upskill and reskill, but competition is tough and the type of remote work available is already causing anxiety and loneliness to spike. National health surveillance initiatives are particularly targeting the generation who spend more time socialising, gaming and trading amongst avatars than amongst ‘real’ people. The ever-increasing number of IoT connections has exposed UK public services to cyberattacks, requiring robust cybersecurity solutions to protect citizens.
Ubiquitous connectivity has given rise to re-imagined democratic systems which have been adopted by local communities to bring agency and ownership back to their constituents. This kind of connected living isn’t for everyone; all sorts of centralised programmes are seeing pockets of backlash and ‘opt out’, whether it’s the personal carbon points scheme, endorphin targets or robo FinHealth advice. Digital services can’t overload those who aren’t online…
Figure 27: Data demand key insights – Seamless Citizen scenario
(Figure 27 – see full size image)
A summary of insights into data demands in the Seamless Citizen scenario, from a quantification analysis of Wireless 2030 public sector use cases. The table below provides a breakdown of the information provided in Figure 27 in an accessible format:
Jack, 27, Lincoln
Completing the biometric security checks, he is logged in to the RAF Akrotiri system and begins the day’s work, studying the latest SWARM surveillance data. Noticing that his colleague Lisa has arrived at work on his live feed from the hanger, he jokingly comments “and what time do you call this?”, she glares over at his display screen, “Well I can’t just roll out of bed straight into work like you!”. Jack grins “No, but you do get to enjoy the Cyprus sun!”. Later, Jack’s partner asks whether any of his seniors have commented on his health sensor data from the past week – distracted by social engagements, he’d ignored his watch’s reminders to complete his daily fitness regime and is worried his bosses have noticed his lack of discipline in the weekly personnel health and fitness report.
Sennen, 19, Newport
Perching cross-legged on the end of her bed, Sennen pops her VR headset on and is automatically taken to the university’s collaboration realm in the Metaverse, the noise cancellation immediately drowning out the sound of her siblings across the room. She navigates herself to the mountain range workspace where her Mech-Eng project group have agreed to meet. When everyone is assembled, they begin a lively debate about how to best approach this week’s task; designing a new wind turbine which can generate enough energy to power a small village. They agree to use a digital twin to design and test their turbine and once created, they install their turbine on their mountain and attach it to a village of 200 houses to see if it works. Towards the end of the meeting, some of her classmates who live in halls suggest celebrating at the pub and she sighs; she wished she could have moved away to university, but it would not have improved the course quality and in-person socialisation is no justification for the additional costs. Later, she logs into the ‘Gaining an edge’ weekly workshop run by the Student’s Union, today’s theme is small talk…
Rebecca, 82, Dartmoor
Stepping through the front door, she hears the distinctive chime of her home ecosystem waking up; “Welcome back Rebecca, Rob’s family have set off from their home. Based on their momentum data and current traffic monitoring, I expect them to arrive at approximately 2:17 PM. There is nothing further scheduled in your calendar today. Is there anything else I can help you with?”. She replies, “Thank you, please turn the kettle on” as she heads over to the kitchen cupboard. She wasn’t sure about letting AI into her home but asking it to do things for her has certainly been a lot easier than trying to use the interactive surface her son Rob bought her a few Christmases ago. The water bubbles and she imagines Rob and the kids in their funny VR headsets; they wanted Rebecca to get one so they could go to the Metabeach together, but she’d so much rather give them a real squeeze. A buzzing on her wrist disturbs her thoughts and she hears “Resting heart rate, 64. Now is the best time to take your Enalapril tablets”. The HealthPro8000 on the counter has already dispensed the tablets and poured the water.
How the Wireless 2030 Scenarios can inform strategy and policy.
Using the scenarios, the GO-Science project team has worked with DCMS to identify a series of key issues to consider in the development of both supply-side (wireless infrastructure) and demand side (wireless services) strategy and policy:
These findings can be built on by DCMS and other governmental departments, exploring the scenarios and using them to stress test strategy and policy.
Below are some examples of exercises that can be used for this purpose, with step-by-step summary guides on how to implement them.
For further information on on these and other futures methodologies can be found in the Futures Toolkit: tools for futures thinking and Foresight across UK government or contact [email protected].
The following are 3 suggestions to using the scenarios to help develop and test policies and strategies, with more detail on how to implement these techniques provided below (Figure 28).
Figure 28: Three ways to apply the Wireless 2030 scenarios to strategy development
Each exercise is highly customisable and can be applied at the beginning, middle or end of strategy or policy development.
Step 1: Introduce the preferred future. If this is contested, work through the scenarios and agree the ideal elements of the best future.
Step 2: Starting from the future and working backwards to the present identify the key differences between the preferred future and the present
Step 3: Build a timeline that moves backwards from the preferred future to the present reality, setting out the key changes between the 2 points in time.
Step 4: Identify which changes are in your control and which aren’t.
Step 5: Identify what you need to do to deliver the steps that are in your control .
Step 6: Identify how you can influence or facilitate the steps that are outside your control .
Tip: starting from the future and working backwards (rather than starting from today and working towards a specific future) helps get over the human bias for assuming today is permanent.
A method for testing policy, strategy or project objectives against a set of scenarios to see how well they stand up to a range of external conditions.
Output: Feedback on how a new or existing policy, strategy or project might be affected in different scenarios and how it might need to be modified to ensure resilience across a range of future conditions.
Outcome: A more resilient policy, strategy or project.
Table 9: Example policy stress-testing exercise
3. Considering shocks
Even using rigorous assumption or uncertainty analysis and scenario development, we are still susceptible to disruptors and shocks. Our organisational and personal biases often prevent us from considering lower likelihood, yet high impact phenomena that can destabilise our context, or accelerate our trajectory towards a given scenario. These events or changes are considered ‘shocks’ to us and to our systems –and manifest in 3 ways (Table 10):
Table 10: Types of shocks
These examples are a starting point for individual policy teams to consider what the possible shocks might be in their particular policy area (further examples of disruptors and shocks can be found in the annex).
We can use scenarios to explore the drivers and impacts of ‘shocks’, to better anticipate and plan HMG responses. You can ask:
If this shock were to happen between now and 2030, would it make each scenario more or less likely? How would it change the conditions within each scenario?
What is our (HMG) capacity to respond to a shock in any given scenario? What would we need to start, stop, adapt or continue doing to improve our resilience?
The Government Office for Science would like to thank the many officials, experts and industry stakeholders who contribute to this project by providing expert advice and constructive reviews of drafts.
The project team at the Government Office for Science was led by Jack Snape and Martin Glasspool and included Charlie Warwick, Melanie Carlin, Jessica Bodé, Seanique Reuben, Kharug Cheema and Felix Langley.
The project was overseen by a steering group of experts from across government:
Siôn Cave and Dave Exelby from Decision Analysis Services Ltd worked in partnership with the project team and provided specialist futures and data analytics support. The team would like to thank Design102 for providing artists impressions of the Wireless 2030 scenarios.
We are also grateful for the valuable time and input from:
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