IT HAS been at the centre of a series of unfounded conspiracy theories and in some places masts have even been set on fire, but the world’s growing 5G network is also hailed as helping create critical connections between individuals, businesses, families and countries during some of the most difficult moments of lockdown.

Against a backdrop of a wide uptake of online activity, the Scotland 5G Centre is set to accelerate its connectivity push for rural and urban areas and is poised to access coronavirus cash to help set up a raft of projects.

The organisation, which was created last October to boost the adoption of 5G and realise its “economic and societal” potential, is also to set up new testbed facilities to allow businesses to trial ideas for commerciality.

Paul Coffey, chief executive of the organisation, says the facility, which is funded by the Scottish Government and partnered with Strathclyde and Glasgow universities and Scottish Futures Trust, and also working with a host of other academic institutions, is in a “unique” position, adding that there are many 5G centres globally but “this I believe, is the only national 5G centre”.

Mr Coffey said there will be a concentrated focus on urban and rural areas “but it’s that rural challenge that is the real attraction and the real opportunity”.

He said: “5G has the potential to unlock substantial growth and economic gains in cities, towns, and rural communities, and is going to make our lives here safer and more connected.

“With 5G, the capability is there to introduce not only new technology, but new business models, and we’ve got a number of projects already live.”

READ MORE: 'First private 5G testbed' unveiled by Scottish consortium

Innovations to come include looking at how that technology can work to the advantage of businesses in rural communities.

Mr Coffey said: “So, looking at shared spectrum, looking at how we can utilise that to take network and make people digitally enabled and I think we’re already at a good place for this.

“With the unfortunate situation of Covid, the economic and social recovery from the pandemic is difficult for all of us but it’s going to be especially difficult for those in rural communities.”

He added: “5G has some unique advantages where we can go in and connect that rural community. It’s about connectivity and we can enable that with 5G technology and we’re looking to get some projects off the ground in the short term that will demonstrate that.”

Last year, a study by Deloitte estimated that significant changes to wireless technologies in Scotland, including revolutionary 5G networks, could increase GDP by more than £17 billion, or the equivalent to 8.3 per cent of the country’s total economic output, and create an additional 160,000 new jobs by 2035.

READ MORE: 5G roll-out may help Scottish tourism bounce back from virus crisis, expert declares

Mr Coffey said the centre will soon be able to help firms take their new product to the next level by trialling it at one of its facilities.

He said: “We’re launching the ‘Scotland 5GC connect’ program and this is where we offer businesses access to knowledge, but we’re also going to be offering them access to unique demonstration platforms in a development environment.

“This is where it will be access to the latest 5G end-to-end ecosystem where they can test, [and] develop their applications and services in a safe environment. This is ahead of the commercial networks operating their services. It will give them access not just to the network but professional services as well, where they can build their business in readiness for when the commercial networks are available, so it gives them a headstart with their business.

“It’s the things like this that will have a big impact to achieve the £17bn GDP. So that is something that the centre is accelerating at the moment and we’ll be launching that in due course.”

He said the pandemic has shown “that we can work remotely where there is connectivity”, adding the crisis has also “forced people to step into a world that perhaps some people are a little bit uncertain of. It’s enabled people to step into that.

“So we need to enable that infrastructure to make it real. And then we can build on that and accelerate 5G services on top of that but the basic premise is, you need to get connectivity in there.”

Mr Coffey, who previously worked at EE where he played a key role in establishing the UK’s first 4G services in rural communities, said he is exploring accessing crisis-relevant funding, adding: “There is an opportunity to release some funding that will be specific to this, as you would expect, due to the lockdown scenario. So I’m working with the Scottish Government on this, highlighting some project activities that we can utilise.” There has been “minor impact” due to Covid with ongoing programmes, while at one Scottish testbed “contracts have been awarded and [by] the back-end of summer we should have equipment on the ground, up and operational”.


What countries have you enjoyed travelling to, for business or leisure, and why?

I spent a month travelling around Vietnam when I was younger. It’s an amazing country with such warm and friendly people. From trekking in the Sapa mountains in the north, to what can only be described as organised chaos in Ho Chi Minh City.

Recently I spent a week in Tokyo at Softbank’s HQ. It’s difficult to describe how busy and also regimented the city is - seeing people queueing up to get into the office at 9am is a daily sight. The delayed Olympics will be an amazing spectacle.

When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did it appeal?

I played golf to quite a high standard and wanted to become a professional. I had the opportunity to turn pro but turned it down as I didn’t think I was good enough to make it to "tour level". At the time I didn’t realise there were different routes I could have taken, a lesson we can all learn there.

What was your biggest break in business?

Getting made redundant from EE. I had a progressive career within the company, but things had got too comfortable. Redundancy was the motivation I needed and without that, I doubt I would be sitting in this role today.

What was your worst moment in business?

Being in central London when the 7/7 bombings occurred. Initially we were unclear of what was happening and tried to continue but realised we needed to get out of London fast. No matter how tough business gets, its only business.

Who do you most admire and why?

People who make a difference and don’t lie down in adversity. Billy Monger is one of those, a successful junior racing driving who lost both legs in 2017 after hitting a stationary car at 120mph. Billy returned to racing in 2018 and won his first F3 race in 2019.

What are you reading, what was the last film you saw and what music are you listening to?

Racing Through the Dark, David Millar. Dunkirk. Glastonbury replays.