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#VibrantCambridge starts future connectivity discussion

We’re great at connectivity in Cambridge. But what I’m talking about here is infrastructure connectivity – mobile, fixed, wi-fi, and whatever else will follow on…You may already know that I chair the Connectivity Group within Cambridge Ahead, so this is a subject close to my heart. A discussion in advance of Grant Thornton’s #VibrantCambridge event earlier today asked me to look at how I would motivate people to think about connectivity – so here we go.

Good connectivity provides more opportunity for the adoption of technology and this is how we can achieve value as individuals, businesses and communities; particularly as we build on the era of connected devices, things and people.

For example, connectivity could assist with one of Cambridge’s biggest issues – transport. Did you know that a single digit percentage difference in rush hour traffic could make a significant impact on congestion? In the same vein, if Cambridgeshire adopted a time-shift approach for its workers it could also have a massive impact on our gridlocked streets. Better internet connectivity – either at purpose built hubs (or by leveraging halls, shared space around the outskirts of the city), on roads, public transport and homes could assist both of these specific issues.

Still on transport, how many times have you searched for a parking space? Knowing where to find a free space could reduce congestion by 30% according to a Silicon Valley study, giving us another use of technology enabled by real-time connectivity.

But there is much more – as connectivity extends to things, and individuals, we’ll start to need connectivity more and more – think smart home applications; think remote monitoring of our elderly to notify us of falls or inactivity; and last week’s #IoTUKBoost meeting, Everynet talked about low power networks for measuring rodent activity! The list becomes only limited by your imagination and pretty much, without fail, will require some degree of connectivity.

Connectivity is not a nice to have, it is a necessity for Cambridge to be a vibrant city to retain and attract residents as well as businesses.

So what can we do differently?

We have already proved we can own the problem as a community. Our #CambsNotspotter campaign was run in 2016 to identify notspots in the mobile phone infrastructure across the Cambridge region. The crowdsourced initiative generated over 1m data points, allowing us to talk to operators on their level and foster a measured improvement plan in mobile connectivity. This will hopefully also stand us in good stead when it comes to putting in a proposal to be a 5G test bed city as the preliminary report suggests there is great(er) interest in cities that have already started to take responsibility of their own infrastructure.

We are just about to launch a proof of concept called camroam. Anyone in academia will have heard of a system called eduroam – students in the city (and across the globe) have a massive advantage with secure Wi-Fi connectivity, and camroam is about trialling an approach for businesses to leverage a similar system. Watch this space for more news and links on how to get involved.

But why stop there. 2 of our Cambridge sages also sit in my Connectivity Group and have thrown other ideas into the mix worth considering: –

  1. Charles Cotton suggested that connectivity (mobile and fixed broadband) should be part of the energy performance certificate when you buy a home, and
  2. David Cleevely doesn’t get why lamp posts should just be for lights! He thinks they should be utility posts – imagine if every lamp post was a connectivity source for all to use! Why couldn’t they also facilitate free Wi-Fi?

Our uniqueness is our people, how they network and how they interact – so as part of the #VibrantCambridge discussion I want us all to think about how being a vibrant city will require ubiquitous, always-on connectivity.

Now I don’t expect everyone to start coming up with direct connectivity suggestions (although they are very welcome to!). I also don’t expect people to worry about what can feasibly be done. But what I would ask is for us all think of the ‘art of the possible’ and it’ll then more than likely have connectivity as the enabler!

So #VibrantCambridge as an event may now be over, but it is the start of the discussion. I want to know, from you, what you think about connectivity and how we can develop our infrastructure ahead of demand.

Email me at faye.holland@cofinitive.com and I’ll share the outputs with you all.