Prime ministerial advisory body maps out scenarios to enable policymakers to ‘stress-test’ ideas
Ministers may need to put in place measures to enable government to manage supply and demand for wireless connectivity as reliance on the technology continues to increase.
This is among the findings of a new report from the Government Office for Science – which provides advice to the prime minister and the cabinet on tech and scientific issues.
The office’s Wireless 2030 study – which stresses to readers that its guidance does not represent government policy – maps out four “scenarios” describing how the wireless landscape may change during the rest of the decade. The intention is that officials – principally in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – can use these projections to “stress-test” policy in development.
In developing the scenarios, the advisory body also identified four main areas it believes should be the focus of policymakers in the area of wireless broadband and mobile internet, and the use of such connectivity in delivering public services.
One of these areas is the potential use of “levers that balance supply and demand, [which] would be a useful addition to the wireless policy toolkit”, the report says.
“The scenarios highlight the risks of supply and demand for wireless connectivity being out of balance, and the benefits of getting this balance right,” it adds. “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.”
Government should also bear in mind the risks to online safety and general population wellbeing that may come with ubiquitous connectivity, the study recommends.
Policymakers are further reminded that “public support and service provider engagement are just as vital to shaping future demand as providing infrastructure”.
DCMS is also advised to understand the disparities between the bandwidth likely to be needed for various public services. Those that may be most reliant on robust connectivity – such as remote patient monitoring or the operation of autonomous vehicles – are most likely to be affected if coverage is more limited than anticipated.
The first of the scenarios envisions “slow progress”, in which “the pace of tech adoption has plateaued”, while the second projects the possibility that adoption would be stymied by “unmet promises” and delayed rollout of 5G and 6G networks.
The third scenario is that of the “seamless citizen”; this is a world in which “citizens and industry embrace full digitisation… [which] unlocks opportunities for prosperity, but is demanding of people’s data, energy, and mental health”.
The final scenario is that of an “us and them” world where “investment and innovation has been concentrated where the wealth is… [and] secure and high-quality connectivity is the privilege of those who have the money and the required digital skills”.
Government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “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. The Wireless 2030 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.”