Interview: Mikkel Vinter
How can the telecoms industry and regulator better cooperate to develop smart city infrastructure?
MIKKEL VINTER: Smart cities process massive amounts of data around the clock. This requires constant and ubiquitous connectivity through very-high-capacity networks consisting of wired (fibre optics) and wireless (5G) elements. These networks, which will be critical for all societal and economic functions, will be built and maintained by industry, which means private sector investment is the key driver for the development of smart cities. The government is reliant on industry to invest in advanced networks, and industry is equally reliant on the government to create the right conditions for that investment. Effective collaboration between the private and public sector is therefore vital to creating an ecosystem in which a smart city can develop and flourish. We see the starting point as a common vision – what type of city do we want to live and work in? Once that is known, a strategy that reflects the interests of all stakeholders can be prepared, setting out key action points, and, most importantly, specifying how industry can support the government and vice versa. The strategy must also be adaptable, given that telecoms networks do not suddenly appear fully formed but evolve over time. We also see the overall approach as being essentially holistic, in that the desire to work together must be promoted across all organisations.
With Amazon’s announcement that it would open a data centre cluster, what further opportunities are there to attract foreign investment in the segment?
VINTER: The data centre industry sits within a wider ecosystem based on high-speed, low-latency connectivity. Data centres are built where there is already good infrastructure, and their arrival typically leads to newer and better infrastructure, resulting in more data centres. It does not stop there, as advanced telecoms networks attract not only data centres, but also other ICT and data-intensive industries such as research and financial services. In terms of what must be done to support the expansion of this segment, data centres typically require proximity to markets, the availability of infrastructure and skilled human resources. The kingdom has a clear geographic advantage, being located at the centre of the Gulf region.
Bahrain must continue to develop industrial clusters that lead to collaboration and knowledge sharing, which in turn leads to innovation and increased productivity. Silicon Valley is the most obvious example of this, but others include London, Dublin and Amsterdam. Data centres and related industries typically flow to where there is a local population of highly skilled individuals, so we see the active involvement of Bahrain’s third-level institutions as essential.
In what ways can Bahrain leverage its 5G infrastructure to attract investment?
VINTER: 5G will enable the internet of things (IoT), which will see a few billion smartphones be replaced by tens of billions of more sophisticated devices. In addition, the data collected from these IoT devices will be processed by more advanced artificial intelligence. All of these forces combined will create new industries and permanently change or eradicate older ones. Sectors that will see massive changes include health care (remote surgery), education (online learning), manufacturing (increased automation), finance (advanced algorithms) and transport (autonomous vehicles). Countries that adapt 5G technology early will gain a significant competitive advantage, and Bahrain can attract investors by continuing to roll out innovative 5G services and letting global industries know that it has done so. There is also a limited window of time in which to act; 5G networks are still very new but they will not remain so. Thus, the time to act is now and not later, and Batelco has heeded this urgency by becoming the first telecoms operator in Bahrain to launch 5G.
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