Since mobile networks emerged in the 70s, they have evolved to an extent that few could imagine they would. Personal mobile phones have displaced landline phones in our homes and provide people multiple applications and services.
The arrival of 5G will entail a new revolution on top of another, the digital revolution. The increased data transmission speed, above one gigabit per second, will change the way we use our mobile devices and allow connecting all types of objects to the network (IoT).
We interview Eduard Martín, Director of 5G at Mobile World Capital Barcelona, the entity in charge of the Mobile World Congress.
Question: Mr Martín, can you tell us about your career path up to your current position?
Answer: I am a Computer Engineer and I studied Innovation Management at IESE Business School. For most of my professional career I have worked for the Municipal Computing Institute of Barcelona (Barcelona City Council). I held positions that ranged from managing computing systems to network design and administration, equipment administration and technology transfer processes. I have been the Director of Innovation, Knowledge Society and ICT Architecture, participating in the internationalisation of the ICT model of the city of Barcelona, and collaborating in the conception of the city as one of the top smart cities.
Q: In your opinion, what are the challenges for utilities such as water utilities concerning the digital transformation?
A: Water resource management and distribution is one of the major challenges for the sector, where new technologies can provide sustainable solutions. Without a doubt, the digitalisation of the production and the management of these services will provide financial advantages and opportunities for improvement. In sum, we are talking about the need to optimise resources to ensure they are sustainably managed.
The combination of excellent communications with the data collected will allow a shorter reaction time to any incidents
Q: What opportunities emerge with this paradigm shift?
A: Big data or artificial intelligence, for example, can be key for better management, also in the water industry. Technology allows us to compile a wealth of data and analyse them to enable more efficient and sustainable management, to have information in real time, to plan maintenance tasks better, ensure better investments for the future, etc. Ultimately, we can save costs, gain efficiency, and provide a better service. Regarding connectivity, smart networks — 5G — will enable increasing real time information on distribution data, controlling the distribution channels for those data, and more detailed system monitoring. The combination of excellent communications with the data collected will allow a shorter reaction time to any incidents, and, of course, improving the water resource distribution systems. It is a great opportunity to improve the business processes associated to the management, distribution and control system for those valuable resources.
Q: In the specific area of the Internet of Things, what are the innovations still to come for managers and users?
A: The Internet of Things has already become the Internet of 'everything'. It is applicable to the industry through the automation of production processes using sensors, actuators and all kinds of elements that enable controlling operations remotely and precisely; it opens a world of possibilities which obviously already have an application in the world of water management. From the mechanical operation of water systems to smart management in order to ensure distribution adapts to the needs of users. The irruption of 5G as a smart communications technology (that is, not only faster and more efficient, but also adaptable to needs) entails a step forward to widespread water resource control that adapts to the real needs of people, and enables operators to adjust their services according to sustainability criteria. Without a doubt, new technologies provide operators and users tools for more responsible use and consumption, and therefore, better suited to the real world.
Q: How do you think water management will change after the arrival of 5G?
A: 5G will be a revolution for connectivity, with higher speed, more reliability, and lower latency. Most importantly, it will enable the expansion of technologies such as the Internet of Things or Artificial Intelligence. And these technologies will be the ones to really change water management and the management of other resources. With technologies like 5G we will have information at any point in time, more accurate and reliable, and therefore, we will be able to adjust industrial processes to our needs. For instance, in rural irrigation associations, controlling water flows accurately and applying policies and agreements are of utmost importance; thanks to the application of state-of-the-art technology these can be simplified, thus helping to ensure better resource management.
Q: When will be able to see important changes?
A: Some of these technologies will rely on the deployment of the 5G network, which is expected to be complete by early 2021. But there are already many pilots under way to test how technologies such as the Internet of Things will be applied to each business or service. The progress made in the next years will be important to develop devices that make use of the capabilities of 5G networks and that use big data to provide all the information that operators and users need. I would follow the European Action Plan, which establishes 2025 as the year when large capacity smart networks (such as 5G) will be deployed.
Q: To what extent do you think that the industry in general, and the water industry in particular, are collecting and processing data about their activity?
A: The industry in general is well aware of the need to accelerate digitalisation processes. And the same happens in the water sector. In Spain, the interest of water operators in 5G networks and data technology is quite obvious, and they have been using those advances to improve the services they provide to users for years now. Needless to say, there is work to be done, but in our world the road to innovation does not reach an end point: it is an ongoing journey. In the coming years we will see the massive incorporation of digital technologies in the industry (it is already happening) and, of course, in the water industry. The production processes paradigms will change and it is very important to make use of this great opportunity to improve and refine those production processes in pursuit of sustainability.
New technologies provide operators and users tools for more responsible use and consumption
Q: Capacity building, talent and entrepreneurship are key elements in this scenario, but to what extent?
A: Talent and entrepreneurship are key. Without them, there is no digital revolution. This is an issue of concern. Spain is in the 17th position (out of the 28 members of the EU) in terms of digital competencies, and in the 18th position in terms of training technology experts. Meanwhile, in Barcelona, as an example, the demand for digital talent has increased by 40% in one year. The supply, however, has only increased by 7%. We must leverage the opportunities that this revolutions provides, encouraging the reskilling of professionals, ensuring more people choose this professional field, and promoting specialisation. But not only should we work to create optimal scenarios for the development of digital talent, we also have to work to ensure all people have digital skills so that technologies are at everybody's reach and understood by all. Talent to produce, and skills to receive these new services.
Q: Let us get into de role of Robert Zemeckis in Back to the Future II and travel 30 years into the future. How do you imagine water management will be in 2050?
A: I imagine it more adapted to the needs of both the land and the people. With more direct data and rich context data, obtained from real consumption and needed parameters, combined with excellent communications technologies (such as 5G networks), the redistribution of water resources can be adjusted to the actual needs at each point in time, adapting it to industrial, domestic, rural uses, etc.
In 30 years new technologies will allow bespoke services and, therefore, sustainability based on rationalisation. The water industry will follow the same paradigms.