Supporting the next generation of engineers through COVID.

Supporting the Next Generation of Engineers Through COVID

Nicholas Hill, Plextek

By: Nicholas Hill

CEO

28th July 2020

3 minute read

Home » Technology

When history of the UK’s response to coronavirus is written I’m confident that the cancellation of exams will be seen as a precipitate, unwise decision that had far reaching, negative consequences for a great number of young people. For A-level students in particular, exam results can be critical to realising career ambitions. With stiff competition for places at the best universities, achieving your target grades means getting onto the course you really want, or not. One exam grade either way might mean getting a good start into your career of choice, or not. Assembling a collection of students in a large hall for an exam, spaced a little further apart than normal, doesn’t seem like one of the harder problems organisations have had to solve for during this crisis. And yet the cancellation of all exams was one of the first announcements when the lockdown started. The consequence of this – having grades assessed by teachers – was always going to be unfair to many students despite the best efforts of those teachers.

Undergraduates have had a very rough time of it too, with campuses closed, exams either cancelled or open book and online tuition and assignments patchily delivered. Given that the summer term is all about the lead up to exams, the whole thrust of the term has been somewhat lost in those universities where exams have not taken place.

Many students will have arranged summer placements or internships over the summer. These can be invaluable in helping students learn how their skills might be applied to real-world jobs. They will have the opportunity to deliver a project and experience team working. For engineering students, they will be learning hands-on skills that they won’t experience at a university. They will also be finding out whether a particular sector or organisation is likely to enthuse them.

This year, sadly, it has been evident that many companies have cancelled their summer placements entirely, perhaps understandably given the battles that many are fighting just to stay in business. Others, with offices temporarily closed to staff, have replaced what would have been an eight-week placement in an office or lab with a short internet-based experience, providing short talks and assignments. This can only add to the feeling of disappointment many will be feeling.

Summer Placements at Plextek: The Practicalities

As CEO, I feel quite keenly the responsibility to keep our staff both physically and mentally healthy – this is a balance that needs to be re-evaluated on a weekly, if not sometimes daily basis at the moment. Given the negative impact that undergraduates had already experienced this year, I was very eager to ensure that we did not let down the half dozen students that we were planning to host over the summer, and provide them with something like a normal experience. Each of our students typically gets a self-contained project to work on over an eight-week period. They are deliberately quite challenging, to get them thinking and stretch their ability. The projects are almost always hands-on and practical in nature, so access to our labs and workshops are essential, as is guidance and mentoring from permanent staff. However, given that most of our staff had been working from home since late March, it wasn’t immediately obvious how we could arrange this.

As it turned out we were able to align the students’ arrival for the summer with a partial opening up of our premises. The latter followed implementation of the government guidelines for safe working in offices and labs, which resulted in a host of changes to the office layout and new working practices, including an electronic booking-in system to limit the numbers in the office on any given day.

Our HR team were busy making sure that everything was in place for the day that the students were welcomed onto our premises. To ensure that support and advice was always available to the students, we organised a rota system so that a small number of senior staff would always be present each day. Student supervisors and mentors agreed to come into the office during the students’ first week to introduce them to the company and get their projects started.

With typically about a third of our staff now in the building at any time there is plenty of space for everyone to social distance but there is a lively feel that has been absent since March. The students have settled in and are in their second week of exploring the problems we have set. I’m hoping to provide further progress reports as the summer holiday proceeds, including some news on the students’ progress, but it’s already gratifying to see the positive impact of this modest return to normality in an astonishingly disrupted year.

When history of the UK’s response to coronavirus is written I’m confident that the cancellation of exams will be seen as a precipitate, unwise decision that had far reaching, negative consequences for a great number of young people.  For A-level students in particular, exam results can be critical to realising career ambitions.  With stiff competition for places at the best universities, achieving your target grades means getting onto the course you really want, or not.  One exam grade either way might mean getting a good start into your career of choice, or not.  Assembling a collection of students in a large hall for an exam, spaced a little further apart than normal, doesn’t seem like one of the harder problems organisations have had to solve for during this crisis.  And yet the cancellation of all exams was one of the first announcements when the lockdown started.  The consequence of this – having grades assessed by teachers – was always going to be unfair to many students despite the best efforts of those teachers.

Undergraduates have had a very rough time of it too, with campuses closed, exams either cancelled or open book and online tuition and assignments patchily delivered.  Given that the summer term is all about the lead up to exams, the whole thrust of the term has been somewhat lost in those universities where exams have not taken place.

Many students will have arranged summer placements or internships over the summer.  These can be invaluable in helping students learn how their skills might be applied to real-world jobs.  They will have the opportunity to deliver a project and experience team working.  For engineering students, they will be learning hands-on skills that they won’t experience at a university. They will also be finding out whether a particular sector or organisation is likely to enthuse them.

This year, sadly, it has been evident that many companies have cancelled their summer placements entirely, perhaps understandably given the battles that many are fighting just to stay in business.  Others, with offices temporarily closed to staff, have replaced what would have been an eight-week placement in an office or lab with a short internet-based experience, providing short talks and assignments.  This can only add to the feeling of disappointment many will be feeling.

Summer Placements at Plextek: The Practicalities

As CEO, I feel quite keenly the responsibility to keep our staff both physically and mentally healthy – this is a balance that needs to be re-evaluated on a weekly, if not sometimes daily basis at the moment.  Given the negative impact that undergraduates had already experienced this year, I was very eager to ensure that we did not let down the half dozen students that we were planning to host over the summer, and provide them with something like a normal experience.  Each of our students typically gets a self-contained project to work on over an eight-week period.  They are deliberately quite challenging, to get them thinking and stretch their ability.  The projects are almost always hands-on and practical in nature, so access to our labs and workshops are essential, as is guidance and mentoring from permanent staff.  However, given that most of our staff had been working from home since late March, it wasn’t immediately obvious how we could arrange this.

As it turned out we were able to align the students’ arrival for the summer with a partial opening up of our premises.  The latter followed implementation of the government guidelines for safe working in offices and labs, which resulted in a host of changes to the office layout and new working practices, including an electronic booking-in system to limit the numbers in the office on any given day.

Our HR team were busy making sure that everything was in place for the day that the students were welcomed onto our premises.  To ensure that support and advice was always available to the students, we organised a rota system so that a small number of senior staff would always be present each day.  Student supervisors and mentors agreed to come into the office during the students’ first week to introduce them to the company and get their projects started.

With typically about a third of our staff now in the building at any time there is plenty of space for everyone to social distance but there is a lively feel that has been absent since March.  The students have settled in and are in their second week of exploring the problems we have set.  I’m hoping to provide further progress reports as the summer holiday proceeds, including some news on the students’ progress, but it’s already gratifying to see the positive impact of this modest return to normality in an astonishingly disrupted year.

safe cities, smart cities, automation,drones, surveillance

How Do We Keep Our Cities Safe in Times of Crisis?

By: Nick Koiza

Head of Security Business

17th July 2020

5 minute read

Home » Technology

It is no surprise that in times of crisis there is an increase in crime.  We are already seeing higher levels of criminality during the Covid19 pandemic, from high tech cyber-crime, down to basic fly tipping. Where people find financial pressure or greater opportunity, there will be security related issues. Yes we want smart cities, but we also want safe cities. In this blog, I give my opinions of the problems and some of the solutions to help keep densely populated areas safer as we move from the current crisis towards our ‘new-normal’.

Background to the urbanisation of the human population

The UN has forecast that 68% of the global population will live in cities by 2050 and in many countries that figure could be much higher. You can see the current rates on Wikipedia:  Urbanisation by Country. Our cities are growing and along with that should be a focus on safety planning and crime prevention.

Smart city planners internationally have been working on how to get a balance between a high density of people and healthy living spaces. Where there are healthy spaces and enough food for the population, there is resultingly less crime.  Vertical farming and sustainable design are becoming more commonplace and architects are becoming more practiced at integrating  ‘green architecture’. One of the latest examples is from Italian firm Luca Curci Architects’ ‘The Link’ project, which houses 20,000 people in four towers with two million plants. These kinds of initiatives are not possible without the use of technology to enable sustainable living and  healthy living spaces. Sustainable environments  with integrated security technology, I believe, is the key to safe, smart cities.

Which technologies underpin successful urban civilisations?

Technologies used to support humans in an urban environment fit into these main areas:

  1. Food and water security
  2. Healthcare
  3. Economy/business
  4. Recreation
  5. Security and Protection
  6. Transportation
  7. Education
  8. Physical Spaces

There is a huge amount of technology needed to underpin urban living, from IoT, data communications, telecoms and hardware devices. Incorporating  all of these makes a healthy ecosystem.

What changes may happen to the planning of smart cities due to the Covid-19 pandemic and future global recession?

Below are some areas that security and  IoT professionals need to consider to  support  future populations:

How do you manage a higher density of people in mega smart cities when physical connections are a vulnerability in the future?

We have more people needing more space between them, in a densely populated area. The use of sensors to detect and communicate pressure points could be useful.

How can you make supply chains more localised without impacting the global economy?

Balancing supply and demand with volatile supply chains is not easy. With easy access to food and other amenities, we alleviate pressures on security. The use of drones and other autonomous vehicles for ‘last mile supplies’ could be key to keeping large scale dense operations agile.

Will there be a move to more homeworking/flexi working and a desire for less distance in travelling for work/services?

Single use buildings with ‘dark’ times suffer from more break-ins, and office blocks that are underutilised while more people are homeworking are vulnerable. Perhaps more mixed-use buildings will be key not only for building security, but also to reduce travel for food/work/recreation. People can stay within their building during a ‘local lockdown’, but still have all the amenities for a satisfying day-to-day life. However, New York has a high level of mixed use buildings and experienced a high level of CV19, probably due to the high population density and its global connections. So, there is a level of population management required, through both strategy and technology, to support safe environments.

Is regular air travel still viable?

Our airports are key to connecting global trade and a huge number of businesses. I hypothesise that with the expense and risk of air travel in the future, there could be two tiers of megacities: air connected (major hubs) with investment by multinational corporates in the land around them for industrial space, and non-air connected (perhaps regional towns). These can have separate pandemic strategies.

What other scenarios are there in a world that combines greater urbanisation with pandemics/crises?

We need to think about our own industries or area of expertise and reflect on how we can impact the future in a sustainable way that considers future crises.

Do crises create more safety issues in dense urban areas?

We are seeing weaker economies collapsing; youth unemployment in some countries scarily high (circa 45% in some Gulf countries for instance); China  currently losing 35% of its  manufacturing, along with mass Global migration. All these factors are adding to the levels of localised crime from poverty. It is suggested that Covid-19 may cause an additional 1.4billion people to move into extreme poverty.

Cyber security companies can deal with much of the online crime, but how do we make cities smarter and better able to eliminate the ability to commit crime, without compromising human rights, with more  security cameras or human tagging, for example?  Or is that just a given now that we need to make that human rights compromise for safety?  Historically, town planners have struggled with keeping residents safe.  A prime example is underpasses. While they ar  brilliant for pedestrians crossing roads safely, they are also notorious for assaults and other crime.  We need to  integrate security technology to focus on the suspected increase in future crime.

Accentuate the positives

It’s not all doom and gloom. Here are some examples of technology that exists today that can be used to keep  future populations safe and there will be many others.  They should give us faith that there are solutions and  provide inspiration for your own security technology projects.

  • People counting: In order to highlight and target passenger safety and security on public transport, this project was to develop non-camera, sensor-based technology; which was highly accurate, compact and unobtrusive and could be positioned in the doorway of buses, trains and trams to detect the numbers of passengers on board. More information here:https://www.plextek.com/case-study/sensors-for-automatic-passenger-counting/
  • Logistics support: As our cities get denser, we need more efficient ways to get tasks completed. Finding a parking space, for instance, in a busy city can be frustrating. It is also a leading contributor to traffic congestion and air pollution within urban environments. Gorizont Telecom launched a system to improve parking in smart cities.  Case study here: https://www.plextek.com/case-study/smart-city-parking-system/
  • It’s worse at night: Where there is light, there are less security threatsTelensa’s PLANet is a world leading street lighting control system, deployed 1.5 million street lights around the world. Centrally controlling light means environmental benefits, while  local sensors ensure the lights go on when the sun goes down: https://www.plextek.com/case-study/smart-city-street-lighting-infrastructure/
  • Drones for surveillance: When it is either not safe, or not physically possible to use humans for surveillance, drones are becoming more common. Above Surveying is a company that uses drones to inspect solar farms – potentially the life blood of our future megacities: https://www.plextek.com/case-study/drone-inspection-of-solar-farms/   

 

What can we do as a tech community?

We must continue to innovate and develop our technology to work harder for our Critical National Infrastructure. For more information and case studies specifically on safe cities, please visit our dedicated web page:  https://www.plextek.com/markets/security/government-and-public-safety/

We also have a useful booklet on Mission Critical IoT for Public Safety: https://www.plextek.com/wp-content/uploads/IOPS-Safety-Brochure_s.pdf

 

If you would like to discuss this topic further or if you have any questions, please email me at security@plextek.com to arrange a chat.  I hope you enjoyed my blog and I look forward to speaking with you.

It is no surprise that in times of crisis there is an increase in crime.  We are already seeing higher levels of criminality during the Covid19 pandemic, from high tech cyber-crime, down to basic fly tipping. Where people find financial pressure or greater opportunity, there will be security related issues. Yes we want smart cities, but we also want safe cities. In this blog, I give my opinions of the problems and some of the solutions to help keep densely populated areas safer as we move from the current crisis towards our ‘new-normal’.

Background to the urbanisation of the human population

The UN has forecast that 68% of the global population will live in cities by 2050 and in many countries that figure could be much higher. You can see the current rates on Wikipedia:  Urbanisation by Country. Our cities are growing and along with that should be a focus on safety planning and crime prevention.

Smart city planners internationally have been working on how to get a balance between a high density of people and healthy living spaces. Where there are healthy spaces and enough food for the population, there is resultingly less crime.  Vertical farming and sustainable design are becoming more commonplace and architects are becoming more practiced at integrating  ‘green architecture’. One of the latest examples is from Italian firm Luca Curci Architects’ ‘The Link’ project, which houses 20,000 people in four towers with two million plants. These kinds of initiatives are not possible without the use of technology to enable sustainable living and  healthy living spaces. Sustainable environments  with integrated security technology, I believe, is the key to safe, smart cities.

Which technologies underpin successful urban civilisations?

Technologies used to support humans in an urban environment fit into these main areas:

  1. Food and water security
  2. Healthcare
  3. Economy/business
  4. Recreation
  5. Security and Protection
  6. Transportation
  7. Education
  8. Physical Spaces

There is a huge amount of technology needed to underpin urban living, from IoT, data communications, telecoms and hardware devices. Incorporating  all of these makes a healthy ecosystem.

What changes may happen to the planning of smart cities due to the Covid-19 pandemic and future global recession?

Below are some areas that security and  IoT professionals need to consider to  support  future populations:

How do you manage a higher density of people in mega smart cities when physical connections are a vulnerability in the future?

We have more people needing more space between them, in a densely populated area. The use of sensors to detect and communicate pressure points could be useful.

How can you make supply chains more localised without impacting the global economy?

Balancing supply and demand with volatile supply chains is not easy. With easy access to food and other amenities, we alleviate pressures on security. The use of drones and other autonomous vehicles for ‘last mile supplies’ could be key to keeping large scale dense operations agile.

Will there be a move to more homeworking/flexi working and a desire for less distance in travelling for work/services?

Single use buildings with ‘dark’ times suffer from more break-ins, and office blocks that are underutilised while more people are homeworking are vulnerable. Perhaps more mixed-use buildings will be key not only for building security, but also to reduce travel for food/work/recreation. People can stay within their building during a ‘local lockdown’, but still have all the amenities for a satisfying day-to-day life. However, New York has a high level of mixed use buildings and experienced a high level of CV19, probably due to the high population density and its global connections. So, there is a level of population management required, through both strategy and technology, to support safe environments.

Is regular air travel still viable?

Our airports are key to connecting global trade and a huge number of businesses. I hypothesise that with the expense and risk of air travel in the future, there could be two tiers of megacities: air connected (major hubs) with investment by multinational corporates in the land around them for industrial space, and non-air connected (perhaps regional towns). These can have separate pandemic strategies.

What other scenarios are there in a world that combines greater urbanisation with pandemics/crises?

We need to think about our own industries or area of expertise and reflect on how we can impact the future in a sustainable way that considers future crises.

Do crises create more safety issues in dense urban areas?

We are seeing weaker economies collapsing; youth unemployment in some countries scarily high (circa 45% in some Gulf countries for instance); China  currently losing 35% of its  manufacturing, along with mass Global migration. All these factors are adding to the levels of localised crime from poverty. It is suggested that Covid-19 may cause an additional 1.4billion people to move into extreme poverty.

Cyber security companies can deal with much of the online crime, but how do we make cities smarter and better able to eliminate the ability to commit crime, without compromising human rights, with more  security cameras or human tagging, for example?  Or is that just a given now that we need to make that human rights compromise for safety?  Historically, town planners have struggled with keeping residents safe.  A prime example is underpasses. While they ar  brilliant for pedestrians crossing roads safely, they are also notorious for assaults and other crime.  We need to  integrate security technology to focus on the suspected increase in future crime.

Accentuate the positives

It’s not all doom and gloom. Here are some examples of technology that exists today that can be used to keep  future populations safe and there will be many others.  They should give us faith that there are solutions and  provide inspiration for your own security technology projects.

  • People counting: In order to highlight and target passenger safety and security on public transport, this project was to develop non-camera, sensor-based technology; which was highly accurate, compact and unobtrusive and could be positioned in the doorway of buses, trains and trams to detect the numbers of passengers on board. More information here:https://www.plextek.com/case-study/sensors-for-automatic-passenger-counting/
  • Logistics support: As our cities get denser, we need more efficient ways to get tasks completed. Finding a parking space, for instance, in a busy city can be frustrating. It is also a leading contributor to traffic congestion and air pollution within urban environments. Gorizont Telecom launched a system to improve parking in smart cities.  Case study here: https://www.plextek.com/case-study/smart-city-parking-system/
  • It’s worse at night: Where there is light, there are less security threatsTelensa’s PLANet is a world leading street lighting control system, deployed 1.5 million street lights around the world. Centrally controlling light means environmental benefits, while  local sensors ensure the lights go on when the sun goes down: https://www.plextek.com/case-study/smart-city-street-lighting-infrastructure/
  • Drones for surveillance: When it is either not safe, or not physically possible to use humans for surveillance, drones are becoming more common. Above Surveying is a company that uses drones to inspect solar farms – potentially the life blood of our future megacities: https://www.plextek.com/case-study/drone-inspection-of-solar-farms/   

 

What can we do as a tech community?

We must continue to innovate and develop our technology to work harder for our Critical National Infrastructure. For more information and case studies specifically on safe cities, please visit our dedicated web page:  https://www.plextek.com/markets/security/government-and-public-safety/

We also have a useful booklet on Mission Critical IoT for Public Safety: https://www.plextek.com/wp-content/uploads/IOPS-Safety-Brochure_s.pdf

 

If you would like to discuss this topic further or if you have any questions, please email me at security@plextek.com to arrange a chat.  I hope you enjoyed my blog and I look forward to speaking with you.

Why is 5G Technology key for Smarter Cities?

By: Shahzad Nadeem

Head of Smart Cities

19th June 2020

5 minute read

Home » Technology

As cities become bigger and more densely populated, technology is seen as the key to growing our urban landscape successfully. Technologies can support our work, our living spaces, our supply chains and much more. In this blog, I will introduce 5G technology and briefly explain its applications for future smarter city living.

Background: why is 5G the real breakthrough?

Mobile communications technology has come a long way from the times of Analog tetra band and voice-based GSM cellular systems. Gradual advancements brought new dimensions to communication technologies. 2G, 3G and 4G focused on improvements in throughput to enable faster applications. However, the incremental advances in communication technologies along with Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Edge Computing, Cloud Computing, Software-Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualisation have led to the development of super-fast, ultra-reliable, very high capacity and highly secure technology called 5G. This is the technology that ‘understands reality’ on the go. The opportunities and use cases of 5G are unlimited and we can only expect a better experience in all walks of life.

While the earlier technologies concentrated solely on improving speed, 5G caters for speed, low latency and high connection density. The three dimensions of 5G applications are eMBB – Enhanced Mobile Broadband, uRLLC – Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications and mMTC – Massive Machine Type Communications. These dimensions cater to applications that need very high bandwidth or are very sensitive to latency or need large numbers of low-speed connections.

5G will enable applications like fast wireless broadband, virtual reality, augmented reality, self-driving vehicles, machine to machine communications, industrial automation, and many other smart city applications.

What is 5G?

5G is a cellular technology using the new kind of radio called 5G NR (New Radio). 5G NR brings together OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing), advanced channel coding, massive MIMO and mm-Wave to deliver the advanced 5G features.

5G NR will be mainly used in three frequency bands:
• 700MHz will give marginal improvement on speeds of 250Mbps max compared to LTE
• 3.5GHz will give a max speed of 900Mbps
• 26/28GH called the mmWave band will get us up to 3Gbps.

As we go higher in frequency, the coverage area will decrease so much so that the mmWave band will hardly cover a mile in dense urban areas.

Which applications need 5G?

eMBB demands 20Gbps DL /10 Gbps UL, 4ms user plane latency and mobility of 500km/hour. It caters for applications like VR, AR, Virtual meetings, Fixed Wireless Access, UHD video and Video monitoring. These applications need high throughput to deliver the high-quality user experience. These applications are already in use but mainly use cable broadband rather than mobile broadband. 5G adds the wireless mobility factor that enables all of these applications on the go.

mMTC require 1 million devices / sq km and 10 years+ battery life. It enables applications like wearables, social networking, Smart Homes, Smart Cities, Health care monitoring, Vehicle to infrastructure communications and specific industrial applications. These applications need long battery life and high connection density to cater to millions of devices in a small area.

uRLCC needs 1ms user plane latency, high availability and high security. It supports applications like remote surgery, public safety, vehicle to pedestrian applications and mission-critical specialised industrial applications. These applications demand quick decision time, precision and high levels of security.

Who is winning in 5G?

TIM Italia took the lead in deploying the first 5G network in Europe but several mobile operators across the world almost simultaneously claimed to be the first in 5G launch. Oreedo Qatar, STC Saudi Arabia and Etisalat UAE announced the deployments of their 5G network at around the same time. In Europe, Vodafone, Telefonica O2, EE and Three mobile have limited 5G deployments in place. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-mobile seem to be leading the market in America. In the Asia Pacific, China mobile, NTT Docomo and Telstra announced their 5G launch at around the end of 2019. The race is on and the operators across the world are trying to take a lead in offering 5G services.

If you have any questions about how 5G can enhance your technology roadmap, please get in touch for an initial chat.

As cities become bigger and more densely populated, technology is seen as the key to growing our urban landscape successfully. Technologies can support our work, our living spaces, our supply chains and much more. In this blog, I will introduce 5G technology and briefly explain its applications for future smarter city living.

Background: why is 5G the real breakthrough?

Mobile communications technology has come a long way from the times of Analog tetra band and voice-based GSM cellular systems. Gradual advancements brought new dimensions to communication technologies. 2G, 3G and 4G focused on improvements in throughput to enable faster applications. However, the incremental advances in communication technologies along with Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, Edge Computing, Cloud Computing, Software-Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualisation have led to the development of super-fast, ultra-reliable, very high capacity and highly secure technology called 5G. This is the technology that ‘understands reality’ on the go. The opportunities and use cases of 5G are unlimited and we can only expect a better experience in all walks of life.

While the earlier technologies concentrated solely on improving speed, 5G caters for speed, low latency and high connection density. The three dimensions of 5G applications are eMBB – Enhanced Mobile Broadband, uRLLC – Ultra-Reliable and Low Latency Communications and mMTC – Massive Machine Type Communications. These dimensions cater to applications that need very high bandwidth or are very sensitive to latency or need large numbers of low-speed connections.

 

5G will enable applications like fast wireless broadband, virtual reality, augmented reality, self-driving vehicles, machine to machine communications, industrial automation, and many other smart city applications.

What is 5G?

5G is a cellular technology using the new kind of radio called 5G NR (New Radio). 5G NR brings together OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing), advanced channel coding, massive MIMO and mm-Wave to deliver the advanced 5G features.

5G NR will be mainly used in three frequency bands:
• 700MHz will give marginal improvement on speeds of 250Mbps max compared to LTE
• 3.5GHz will give a max speed of 900Mbps
• 26/28GH called the mmWave band will get us up to 3Gbps.

As we go higher in frequency, the coverage area will decrease so much so that the mmWave band will hardly cover a mile in dense urban areas.

Which applications need 5G?

eMBB demands 20Gbps DL /10 Gbps UL, 4ms user plane latency and mobility of 500km/hour. It caters for applications like VR, AR, Virtual meetings, Fixed Wireless Access, UHD video and Video monitoring. These applications need high throughput to deliver the high quality user experience. These applications are already in use but mainly use cable broadband rather than mobile broadband. 5G adds the wireless mobility factor that enables all of these applications on the go.

mMTC require 1 million devices / sq km and 10 years+ battery life. It enables applications like wearables, social networking, Smart Homes, Smart Cities, Health care monitoring, Vehicle to infrastructure communications and specific industrial applications. These applications need long battery life and high connection density to cater to millions of devices in a small area.

uRLCC needs 1ms user plane latency, high availability and high security. It supports applications like remote surgery, public safety, vehicle to pedestrian applications and mission-critical specialised industrial applications. These applications demand quick decision time, precision and high levels of security.

Who is winning in 5G?

TIM Italia took the lead in deploying the first 5G network in Europe but several mobile operators across the world almost simultaneously claimed to be the first in 5G launch. Oreedo Qatar, STC Saudi Arabia and Etisalat UAE announced the deployments of their 5G network at around the same time. In Europe, Vodafone, Telefonica O2, EE and Three mobile have limited 5G deployments in place. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-mobile seem to be leading the market in America. In the Asia Pacific, China mobile, NTT Docomo and Telstra announced their 5G launch at around the end of 2019. The race is on and the operators across the world are trying to take a lead in offering 5G services.

If you have any questions about how 5G can enhance your technology roadmap, please get in touch for an initial chat.

Process Optimisation, business growth, product development, business improvement practices, engineering solutions, creativity?

Is Process Optimisation Killing Your Business?

Part 3

Nicholas Hill, Plextek

By: Nicholas Hill

CEO

28th May 2020

5 minute read

Home » Technology

In Part 2 of this blog series, I described some of the less desirable side effects that an increase in the process over time can have, how it can have a negative impact on your business, and most importantly, started to show what to do to prevent it. In this, the final part of the blog series, I’ll complete my exploration of ways in which you prevent being dragged down by process by exploring the role of environment, business model and communications.

Environment

A single workspace and set of tools are unlikely to satisfy the needs of starters and finishers.

Early stages of a project, and starters, are more likely to require open spaces for lively group workshops, tools that support rapid prototyping and modelling and surroundings that inspire creativity. The latter stages of development, and finishers, will need quiet space for concentrated work, CAD systems, document management systems, and comprehensive test and verification facilities.

To be effective, the organisation needs to understand the difference and provide the right environment for everyone.

Business Model

The business of delivering ideation workshops, exploring product concepts or creating proof-of-principle demonstrations are examples of activities for which the outcome is ill-defined. The commercial engagement often comes down to ‘having a go’; sometimes one can pull a rabbit out of the hat, sometimes not. When it comes to the invention, for example, there are no guarantees. Perhaps the customer will like our design concepts, perhaps they won’t. Everyone understands that.

On the other hand, if we agree to develop a product for a customer and introduce it into manufacture, we are making very specific commitments to the deliverables at the end of the project. There will be a very precisely defined outcome, and we haven’t finished until we’ve ticked all the necessary boxes. There is a much higher degree of risk in this type of work. This risk must be considered in advance and it must be clear who carries it (us or our customer).

This doesn’t just affect the project delivery processes, as described above, it influences our business model and has a big impact on the sales process. The overhead involved in early-stage projects tends to be very low because the risk is low, whereas the overhead involved in later-stage projects can be huge because of the degree of detailed analysis that is required before a timescale and price can be agreed upon.
Be clear about which it is before you start bidding for a project.

Internal Communications

One day you are exhorting staff to focus on efficiency, process optimisation, risk reduction and refining company systems so that projects can be delivered on time and within budget; the next day you are emphasising the benefits of taking time out for navel-gazing and experimenting with nebulous ideas in the name of innovation. Not surprisingly staff can be very confused by such mixed messages: “how am I expected to spend quiet time following a train of thought that might lead to some new insight when I have a project manager chasing me to meet a critical deadline on Friday?”

You are going to have to set things up such that the tension between these two modes of working is balanced in some way.

You’ll rightly have some processes that make project delivery manageable, repeatable and efficient.

Resource managers will be putting staff into teams to best match supply (new projects that need resource) to demand (staff with the right skills for the job). Project managers will be making sure that their teams stay focussed on project deliverables.

But clearly, if you want to ensure that your staff have the space for some quality ‘off the clock’ time they will need that time allocated. And done in such a way that resource managers recognise it as equally valid to ‘on the clock’ project time. You might need a project manager for off the clock time to make sure the time is being put in.

External Communications

A somewhat analogous situation exists in external communications. Your organisation may genuinely be able to execute pacey, short, speculative projects and also large, complex, rigorous and demanding projects, but you will have a difficult job getting that message across to customers.

The sort of shop window that would attract a potential customer who is looking for some very rapid ideas development or a ‘quick and dirty’ proof-of-the-possible demonstration will not attract a customer who is looking for rigorous design methodology, highly detailed work breakdown, thorough verification plans and precise deliverables. The former will be looking for evidence of disruptive thinkers who can create novel opportunities, the latter a team who can precisely specify and then deliver reliably what it promises, with a high degree of risk management.

CONCLUSION

About two years ago Plextek started thinking about how to introduce new innovation strategy and design services to our business, to complement our existing technology and engineering services. All the tensions discussed above were very much in our minds. The people needed to deliver these services would have a very different mindset to our engineers, even those at the ‘starter’ end of the spectrum. Processes would need to be minimal to allow the maximum amount of flexibility and pace. The environment needed to be open, inspiring, suitable for interactive workshops rather than functional and lab-based. The office culture would be quite different, led by ‘creatives’ rather than scientists and engineers. It would be difficult to present our traditional services and our new services within one marketing ‘shop window’.

After much discussion, we concluded that the tensions were just too great to exist within one entity, so we made the decision to set up Ignite Exponential as a separate business unit to provide these new services. Although it was closely coupled to our existing business, Ignite Exponential would have the freedom it needed to support its own flavour of people, process, business model, environment and marketing.

This is an extreme example, where it seemed it was not possible to create sufficient space for two such different ways of working under one roof. It’s important that a business can recognise when this is the right solution. But it must also be prepared to work hard to allow very different ways of working co-exist under one roof wherever possible, to suit the type of project being undertaken.

As a keen traveller, what I learned from this is that I needed a new checklist. It’s called ‘Minimal Gear’. The rules work in the opposite sense to my traditional ones. When I come back from a trip I look at what I took that I didn’t need or could have done without, and cross it off the checklist. The list gets shorter and shorter over time rather than longer, and I regain that ability to make ad hoc decisions without feeling encumbered by heavy bags or the value of what I’m carrying. I haven’t thrown away the old checklists: quite often they are appropriate to use. But I now have the luxury of two modes of travel, with a system that can support both of them.

In Part 2 of this blog series, I described some of the less desirable side effects that an increase in the process over time can have, how it can have a negative impact on your business, and most importantly, started to show what to do to prevent it. In this, the final part of the blog series, I’ll complete my exploration of ways in which you prevent being dragged down by process by exploring the role of environment, business model and communications.

Environment

A single workspace and set of tools are unlikely to satisfy the needs of starters and finishers.

Early stages of a project, and starters, are more likely to require open spaces for lively group workshops, tools that support rapid prototyping and modelling and surroundings that inspire creativity. The latter stages of development, and finishers, will need quiet space for concentrated work, CAD systems, document management systems, and comprehensive test and verification facilities.

To be effective, the organisation needs to understand the difference and provide the right environment for everyone.

Business Model

The business of delivering ideation workshops, exploring product concepts or creating proof-of-principle demonstrations are examples of activities for which the outcome is ill-defined. The commercial engagement often comes down to ‘having a go’; sometimes one can pull a rabbit out of the hat, sometimes not. When it comes to the invention, for example, there are no guarantees. Perhaps the customer will like our design concepts, perhaps they won’t. Everyone understands that.

On the other hand, if we agree to develop a product for a customer and introduce it into manufacture, we are making very specific commitments to the deliverables at the end of the project. There will be a very precisely defined outcome, and we haven’t finished until we’ve ticked all the necessary boxes. There is a much higher degree of risk in this type of work. This risk must be considered in advance and it must be clear who carries it (us or our customer).

This doesn’t just affect the project delivery processes, as described above, it influences our business model and has a big impact on the sales process. The overhead involved in early-stage projects tends to be very low because the risk is low, whereas the overhead involved in later-stage projects can be huge because of the degree of detailed analysis that is required before a timescale and price can be agreed upon.
Be clear about which it is before you start bidding for a project.

Internal Communications

One day you are exhorting staff to focus on efficiency, process optimisation, risk reduction and refining company systems so that projects can be delivered on time and within budget; the next day you are emphasising the benefits of taking time out for navel-gazing and experimenting with nebulous ideas in the name of innovation. Not surprisingly staff can be very confused by such mixed messages: “how am I expected to spend quiet time following a train of thought that might lead to some new insight when I have a project manager chasing me to meet a critical deadline on Friday?”

You are going to have to set things up such that the tension between these two modes of working is balanced in some way.

You’ll rightly have some processes that make project delivery manageable, repeatable and efficient.

Resource managers will be putting staff into teams to best match supply (new projects that need resource) to demand (staff with the right skills for the job). Project managers will be making sure that their teams stay focussed on project deliverables.

But clearly, if you want to ensure that your staff have the space for some quality ‘off the clock’ time they will need that time allocated. And done in such a way that resource managers recognise it as equally valid to ‘on the clock’ project time. You might need a project manager for off the clock time to make sure the time is being put in.

External Communications

A somewhat analogous situation exists in external communications. Your organisation may genuinely be able to execute pacey, short, speculative projects and also large, complex, rigorous and demanding projects, but you will have a difficult job getting that message across to customers.

The sort of shop window that would attract a potential customer who is looking for some very rapid ideas development or a ‘quick and dirty’ proof-of-the-possible demonstration will not attract a customer who is looking for rigorous design methodology, highly detailed work breakdown, thorough verification plans and precise deliverables. The former will be looking for evidence of disruptive thinkers who can create novel opportunities, the latter a team who can precisely specify and then deliver reliably what it promises, with a high degree of risk management.

CONCLUSION

About two years ago Plextek started thinking about how to introduce new innovation strategy and design services to our business, to complement our existing technology and engineering services. All the tensions discussed above were very much in our minds. The people needed to deliver these services would have a very different mindset to our engineers, even those at the ‘starter’ end of the spectrum. Processes would need to be minimal to allow the maximum amount of flexibility and pace. The environment needed to be open, inspiring, suitable for interactive workshops rather than functional and lab-based. The office culture would be quite different, led by ‘creatives’ rather than scientists and engineers. It would be difficult to present our traditional services and our new services within one marketing ‘shop window’.

After much discussion, we concluded that the tensions were just too great to exist within one entity, so we made the decision to set up Ignite Exponential as a separate business unit to provide these new services. Although it was closely coupled to our existing business, Ignite Exponential would have the freedom it needed to support its own flavour of people, process, business model, environment and marketing.

This is an extreme example, where it seemed it was not possible to create sufficient space for two such different ways of working under one roof. It’s important that a business can recognise when this is the right solution. But it must also be prepared to work hard to allow very different ways of working co-exist under one roof wherever possible, to suit the type of project being undertaken.

As a keen traveller, what I learned from this is that I needed a new checklist. It’s called ‘Minimal Gear’. The rules work in the opposite sense to my traditional ones. When I come back from a trip I look at what I took that I didn’t need or could have done without, and cross it off the checklist. The list gets shorter and shorter over time rather than longer, and I regain that ability to make ad hoc decisions without feeling encumbered by heavy bags or the value of what I’m carrying. I haven’t thrown away the old checklists: quite often they are appropriate to use. But I now have the luxury of two modes of travel, with a system that can support both of them.

Process Optimisation, business growth, product development, business improvement practices, engineering solutions

Is Process Optimisation Killing Your Business?

Part 2

Nicholas Hill, Plextek

By: Nicholas Hill

CEO

27th May 2020

5 minute read

Home » Technology

In Part 1 of this blog I described how, for well-intentioned reasons, the trajectory of the business process is always in the same direction: increasing over time. In this part of the blog, I’ll describe some of the less desirable side effects that this increase in the process can have, how it can have a negative impact on your business, and most importantly, what to do to prevent it.

THE EFFECTS

All of these well-intentioned drivers add positive value to a business because most of the time they are attempting to ensure best practice is followed. However, they also add friction and reduce flexibility, hindering the organisation’s ability to execute projects with short timescales or react swiftly to changes of scope.

A typical tendency of process improvement is to apply it across the board. So if a process is introduced or changed as part of a remedial action that came out of one project, it will be applied to all areas under the guise of ‘preventative action’. The improvement that was relevant for one instance in one project is now attempting to fix problems that may not have existed in other projects but just adds friction to the process. In effect, the height of the quality ‘bar’ is pushed up to that which the most demanding project demands. But now all projects have to get over that bar, whether it is appropriate or not.

If you are writing software for critical applications, such as aerospace or medical device, you rightly need a consistent and rigorous approach, accurate specification, careful execution, painstaking verification and lots of checks and balances. So your organisation builds these features into the quality procedures for writing software. But somewhere else in the business someone is trying to rapidly put together a technology demonstrator for a new product idea. The demonstrator is built around a Raspberry Pi and needs some quickly written code to show how the product might interact with a user. Someone argues that although this demonstrator is only there to show how something might work and not actually deliver a solution, there’s a danger that some of the code might get carried over into a subsequently developed product. So you apply the full-blown software quality process just in case. And you find you can’t possibly get the job done in the timescale available and the cost is out of all proportion to the task.

The similar setting of the quality bar according to the highest need can happen everywhere. For example in the sales process (when the controls appropriate for selling the largest jobs get applied to small ones), or project management (when the process used to start, run and close a project have been scaled to handle the largest, most complex projects and put an unacceptable overhead on smaller projects). This may have been done with the best of intentions, but reflects that fact that it’s much easier to argue for more process than less. The latter is seen as risk-avoiding and so “good”, the latter inviting risk and thus “bad”.

Over time it is easy to get into a situation in which a company is very well set up for executing the largest, most complex, most difficult projects, but has lost the ability to both sell and execute the more pacey, short or risky projects. The organisation has become too slow and too expensive because of the process overhead that has accreted to the business.

In this mode, the organisation is behaving like a railway train, following a carefully controlled path to a pre-defined destination, with specified milestones along the way, and with a large amount of scrutiny, oversight and supervision. So how can we get it to behave like a 4×4 when we need it to, possibly just exploring the landscape, possibly finding the shortest route to the destination, constrained only by the terrain? In disrupted times like we are currently experiencing, these questions become even more pertinent.

THE SOLUTIONS

The first step to avoiding this situation is becoming aware of the problem and realising that action is needed.
A business will typically see an inevitable slow accretion of process over time, so something must be put in place to push back against this tendency. And that takes conscious action. The dialogue must be changed from one of risk-taking versus risk-aversion, which inevitably tends to favour the latter, to around the benefits versus potential costs of any proposed increase in the process. Any business contains a mass of compromises, and finding the right balance is key, but you can’t do that if only one side of the equation is considered.
Many businesses would benefit from the ability to be schizophrenic: sometimes rigorous and risk-averse, sometimes pacey and adventurous. When developing a medical device or aerospace product, design staff need to be able to work in an entirely different mode to when they are brainstorming ideas and putting together experimental models and prototypes. Although process and standards must be applied across the business, a one-size-fits-all template should be avoided. I’ll illustrate this with some examples of how this could be applied in practice.

Process

Overhaul company procedures with the aim of reducing the mandatory process to the minimum. All activities must comply with these, so think very hard about the cost and benefit of each individual requirement before putting it in place. Handle more complex or demanding projects by adding in an additional process that is tailored to that project’s requirements.
Company procedures can end up containing a large amount of excellent advice that has accrued over time. While much of this may be useful it has two detrimental impacts. Firstly it contributes to procedures growing very large and nobody will read long quality documents. Secondly, it may not be clear where the end of the mandatory instructions and the guidance begins. Address this by stripping out all of the guidance and putting it into separate documents that can be referred to when needed.

People

In order to work across the full range of potential projects, we must recognise that different people are more comfortable with different types of project activity. This is nothing to do with their technical specialism: it is about where they sit on an axis that we could call “starter-finisher”. Those at the “starter” end of the scale will be more comfortable with the typical early stages of a project: more experimental, more open-ended, riskier, less well defined. Those at the “finisher” end of the scale will be more comfortable working on the later stages of a typical project: with a clearly specified requirement, with a strong process or framework, with clear boundaries around who is responsible for what and with a desire to push on until every bug is fixed and verification step is complete.

The starters will be great at getting fresh ideas on the table and demonstrating what could be achieved but will get bored long before the product hits the production line. The finishers won’t cope at all well with the somewhat nebulous and ill-defined state of the early project but will make sure we deliver the fully finished article that the customer needs. There’s nothing wrong with this, though both starters and finishers may have difficulty understanding each other!

What is important is that the business recognises these traits and realises that starters work best with minimal process whereas finishers work best where there is a strong process. Accommodating this in a single business is not always easy.

In Part 3 of this blog, I’ll continue to show what you can do to prevent being dragged down by process, to be able to be both rigorous and a fleet of foot, discussing the role of environment, business model and communications.

In Part 1 of this blog I described how, for well-intentioned reasons, the trajectory of the business process is always in the same direction: increasing over time. In this part of the blog, I’ll describe some of the less desirable side effects that this increase in the process can have, how it can have a negative impact on your business, and most importantly, what to do to prevent it.

THE EFFECTS

All of these well-intentioned drivers add positive value to a business because most of the time they are attempting to ensure best practice is followed. However, they also add friction and reduce flexibility, hindering the organisation’s ability to execute projects with short timescales or react swiftly to changes of scope.

A typical tendency of process improvement is to apply it across the board. So if a process is introduced or changed as part of a remedial action that came out of one project, it will be applied to all areas under the guise of ‘preventative action’. The improvement that was relevant for one instance in one project is now attempting to fix problems that may not have existed in other projects but just adds friction to the process. In effect, the height of the quality ‘bar’ is pushed up to that which the most demanding project demands. But now all projects have to get over that bar, whether it is appropriate or not.

If you are writing software for critical applications, such as aerospace or medical device, you rightly need a consistent and rigorous approach, accurate specification, careful execution, painstaking verification and lots of checks and balances. So your organisation builds these features into the quality procedures for writing software. But somewhere else in the business someone is trying to rapidly put together a technology demonstrator for a new product idea. The demonstrator is built around a Raspberry Pi and needs some quickly written code to show how the product might interact with a user. Someone argues that although this demonstrator is only there to show how something might work and not actually deliver a solution, there’s a danger that some of the code might get carried over into a subsequently developed product. So you apply the full-blown software quality process just in case. And you find you can’t possibly get the job done in the timescale available and the cost is out of all proportion to the task.

The similar setting of the quality bar according to the highest need can happen everywhere. For example in the sales process (when the controls appropriate for selling the largest jobs get applied to small ones), or project management (when the process used to start, run and close a project have been scaled to handle the largest, most complex projects and put an unacceptable overhead on smaller projects). This may have been done with the best of intentions, but reflects that fact that it’s much easier to argue for more process than less. The latter is seen as risk-avoiding and so “good”, the latter inviting risk and thus “bad”.

Over time it is easy to get into a situation in which a company is very well set up for executing the largest, most complex, most difficult projects, but has lost the ability to both sell and execute the more pacey, short or risky projects. The organisation has become too slow and too expensive because of the process overhead that has accreted to the business.

In this mode, the organisation is behaving like a railway train, following a carefully controlled path to a pre-defined destination, with specified milestones along the way, and with a large amount of scrutiny, oversight and supervision. So how can we get it to behave like a 4×4 when we need it to, possibly just exploring the landscape, possibly finding the shortest route to the destination, constrained only by the terrain? In disrupted times like we are currently experiencing, these questions become even more pertinent.

THE SOLUTIONS

The first step to avoiding this situation is becoming aware of the problem and realising that action is needed.
A business will typically see an inevitable slow accretion of process over time, so something must be put in place to push back against this tendency. And that takes conscious action. The dialogue must be changed from one of risk-taking versus risk-aversion, which inevitably tends to favour the latter, to around the benefits versus potential costs of any proposed increase in the process. Any business contains a mass of compromises, and finding the right balance is key, but you can’t do that if only one side of the equation is considered.
Many businesses would benefit from the ability to be schizophrenic: sometimes rigorous and risk-averse, sometimes pacey and adventurous. When developing a medical device or aerospace product, design staff need to be able to work in an entirely different mode to when they are brainstorming ideas and putting together experimental models and prototypes. Although process and standards must be applied across the business, a one-size-fits-all template should be avoided. I’ll illustrate this with some examples of how this could be applied in practice.

Process

Overhaul company procedures with the aim of reducing the mandatory process to the minimum. All activities must comply with these, so think very hard about the cost and benefit of each individual requirement before putting it in place. Handle more complex or demanding projects by adding in an additional process that is tailored to that project’s requirements.
Company procedures can end up containing a large amount of excellent advice that has accrued over time. While much of this may be useful it has two detrimental impacts. Firstly it contributes to procedures growing very large and nobody will read long quality documents. Secondly, it may not be clear where the end of the mandatory instructions and the guidance begins. Address this by stripping out all of the guidance and putting it into separate documents that can be referred to when needed.

People

In order to work across the full range of potential projects, we must recognise that different people are more comfortable with different types of project activity. This is nothing to do with their technical specialism: it is about where they sit on an axis that we could call “starter-finisher”. Those at the “starter” end of the scale will be more comfortable with the typical early stages of a project: more experimental, more open-ended, riskier, less well defined. Those at the “finisher” end of the scale will be more comfortable working on the later stages of a typical project: with a clearly specified requirement, with a strong process or framework, with clear boundaries around who is responsible for what and with a desire to push on until every bug is fixed and verification step is complete.

The starters will be great at getting fresh ideas on the table and demonstrating what could be achieved but will get bored long before the product hits the production line. The finishers won’t cope at all well with the somewhat nebulous and ill-defined state of the early project but will make sure we deliver the fully finished article that the customer needs. There’s nothing wrong with this, though both starters and finishers may have difficulty understanding each other!

What is important is that the business recognises these traits and realises that starters work best with minimal process whereas finishers work best where there is a strong process. Accommodating this in a single business is not always easy.

In Part 3 of this blog, I’ll continue to show what you can do to prevent being dragged down by process, to be able to be both rigorous and a fleet of foot, discussing the role of environment, business model and communications.