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Mobile network operator EE has moved to bolster its enterprise credentials with the launch of a new line of products and services for public sector and business customers, with Staffordshire Police, Burton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and housing association Green Square enlisted to highlight the potential of 4G mobile networking.
The operator recently enlisted the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) and pollsters YouGov to conduct research that said 50% of businesses now believed 4G to be critical to their competitiveness, and estimated the boost to the UK economy due to efficiency and productivity gains associated with 4G take-up currently stands at £8.9bn per annum.
With these statistics in mind, EE CEO Olaf Swantee – speaking at an event in London – says that £8.9bn figure would continue to rise thanks to more and more business uptake.
Swantee claims that on average business customers were using a mean of six times as much data when switching up to 4G from 3G on EE’s network, compared with four times as much on the consumer side.
“Dependence on the mobile infrastructure will only increase and the competitiveness of nations is increasingly dependent on digital infrastructure,” he says. “4G is moving from being a good technology towards being a technology for good.
“We will be testing live 1Gbps throughput on our network in early 2016, predominantly designed for delivering on future business requirements,” adds Swantee.
To meet these requirements, EE unveiled five new products: 4G Rapid Site, a three-day temporary site setup offering, run by EE as a managed service; Connected Health, offering new messaging and GP and clinical observation apps to the NHS; Connected Vehicle, a connected car service for the emergency services; Connected Camera, offering seamless video connectivity for field workers; and 4G Public Wi-Fi In A Box, offering plug-and-play, regulatory compliant 4G Wi-Fi services for small shops, cafes and so on.
Green Square, an Oxford-based housing association that operates properties across Wiltshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, and is currently engaged in a major construction drive with a particular emphasis on lower-cost, affordable properties, has already been using 4G Rapid Site on a number of its builds.
Green Square depends on connectivity to manage the various stages of a build, from laying the groundwork, to construction, right through to the co-ordination of the various trades needed to fit electrics, bathrooms and so on.
Up to now Green Square has struggled with site connectivity due to the length of time it takes for national broadband infrastructure supplier Openreach to bring a broadband connection to a new site.
Previously it had to rely on sometimes patchy mobile coverage, particularly in rural-urban fringe areas, according to ICT services manager Mark Gingell. Since deploying 4G Rapid Site, however, his sites are averaging 17Mbps up and 5Mbps down – more than sufficient for building work.
“We have gone from a digital black hole to a fully connected environment,” says Gingell. “4G Rapid Site offers us great opportunities and we are already seeing benefits. It reduces building costs, contracting costs, site travel costs and carbon footprint, and improves health and safety compliance and productivity.”
The service includes supply, installation, connection and commissioning of a high-gain directional antenna and a 4G Wi-Fi router, as well as decommissioning and removal for reuse once it is no longer required, all managed by EE. The operator also performs network status checks, device management capabilities, technical support from a 24/7 service desk and a four hour on-site fix service-level agreement.
Green Square has also used the network to transmit its own office-based corporate network out to building sites using a virtual private network (VPN).
Hotspot traffic cops
Alongside the East Midlands Ambulance Service and utility company Northumbrian Water, Staffordshire Police is also test driving the Connected Car service as part of a plan to make Staffs the most technologically advanced force in the UK by 2016.
Craig Warmington, IT transformation programme manager at Staffordshire Police, says he had already equipped frontline officers with mobile devices, which have saved 250,000 man hours so far by cutting down on paperwork and enabling officers to carry out their duties from the field.
He is now test driving the Connected Car service, literally turning a police car into a Wi-Fi hotspot, which he said had the potential to “transform how we use our vehicles”.
Service users will get a powerful external 4G, Wi-Fi and GPS antenna, mounted on the roof to maximise mobile reception within vehicles and connected via low-loss cabling to a business-grade 4G Wi-Fi router running off the vehicle’s electrics.
This will be fully secured for authenticated, pre-configured devices, which is important to prevent members of the public from picking up the network and attempting to log on or hack it. As with Rapid Site, EE will provide a full managed service through installation, support and monitoring.
Some of the more exciting applications of the hotspots include turning police officers into nodes on the internet of things (IoT), says Warmington, using information on skills or current location to direct the most appropriate response to a crime scene much faster than before.
Adding wearables to the mix will even bring the ability to monitor the physiology of officers in the field, he adds.
“Consider firearms officers in high-stress situations,” Warmington explains to Computer Weekly. “Our ability to monitor them physically means their commander can say if they are in the best state to go into the field armed.”
The service also has the potential to run more than one network in parallel, meaning active police hotspot vehicles could give access to devices under the control of paramedics or firefighters, which Warmington says was particularly exciting in terms of enabling joined-up mobility for the blue light services.
Patients in control
The Connected Health service, meanwhile, will build on EE’s existing work with NHS Trusts and GPs across the UK.
It will now supplement its offering with mobile messaging services and trials of two new apps, Patient GP and Clinical Observation, which it says will “facilitate better communication between the NHS and patients, and provide better care to patients in hospital”.
Key to Connected Health will be the introduction of so-called intelligent messaging, finally enabling two-way SMS communication between patient and practice.
Up to now most GPs have been unable to communicate in this way, but they will now be able to send personalised and tailored texts, and improve and automate services such as appointment cancellations, reminders for prescriptions or flu jabs, targeted campaigns, surveys, and blood donation services.
Magnus Harrison, executive medical director and an emergency consultant at Burton Hospitals NHS Trust, says the service would help the trust cut down on missed appointments, which cost the NHS around £900m per annum, and take pressure off doctors and nurses.
The Patient GP app eventually will allow patients to take control of their interactions with GPs, even allowing people to book, view and cancel appointments on a smartphone, taking administrative strain off surgeries – and going some way to eliminate gatekeeping by receptionists, frequently a cause of patient complaints.
Magnus Harrison, Burton Hospitals NHS Trust
The Clinical Observations app will allow staff to capture patient observations at the bedside using a mobile device, allowing clinicians to easily and quickly recognise early signs of deterioration or complications in patients with the National Early Warning Score (News), Sepsis and Frailty indicators included.
Developed alongside the Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust, it includes a diagram view of the ward with patient information, a summary screen, slider bar style recording, and information to allow clinicians to see who they need to be attending to based on the recognised News protocol.
Harrison says there were too many blockades to effective integration currently within the NHS, and 4G could help him surmount those.
He adds that with wearable monitoring technology becoming more ubiquitous and generating more data that could be of value, clinicians risked not being able to do anything with it without being backed by 4G services.
“We must use mobile to break down barriers in healthcare, allowing us to better engage with our patients, to give them the most appropriate care, and to do that more efficiently and cost-effectively,” Harrison says. “We are nowhere near harnessing the full power of 4G in the NHS.”