A part of the UK5G – Faces of 5G: A series showcasing the people working behind UK5G
Hello, I’m Ste Ashton: the Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity Manager at Worcestershire County Council. I am leading the West Mercia Rural 5G project, which is exploring infrastructure challenges when planning, building and operating a rural 5G network—and how 5G can enhance health and social care services for the benefit of residents.
My job is exciting yet challenging. Essentially, I lead the connectivity programme in the County Council, including the 5G projects and collaborate with partners, whilst also acting as a business lead for nexGworx. 5G is designed for business and continues to evolve, expect efficiency (up to 90% reduction in energy use); virtualisation (utilises standard IT servers and hardware); network slicing (share secure isolated network slices based on common hardware); and agility (dynamically create services on demand according to your business needs).
We started our journey back in 2016. I knew 5G was on the horizon and wanted to ensure the right 5G networks were available across the county as quickly as possible. Connectivity problems can be genuinely challenging for those living in rural areas. After securing one of the first six DCMS projects, Worcestershire 5G, we focused largely on Industry 4.0, productivity improvements and security by design, and even built the first private indoor 5G network in a UK factory at Worcester Bosch.
But we also noticed that there was a brilliant opportunity for the health and social care sector, which was facing increasing demands as a result of our ageing population. Since then, West Mercia Rural 5G has successfully tested two use cases: including XR to support remote monitoring of patients and the ‘Connected Worker’, utilising wearable video & mobile telemedicine. It is not about reducing costs or face-to-face contact but rather, making better use of time and resources. 5G is bringing real value.
1. What do you enjoy most about working on your project?
The fact we are exploring new solutions to improve the lives and experiences of patients and clinicians in health and social care. I am also enjoying building an ecosystem of partners in this space to ensure ongoing sustainability.
2. What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done in the name of 5G?
I climbed up the Malverns one afternoon to take some photographs of where we wanted to put a mast. It was snowing! I wasn’t exactly prepared in my shirt sleeves, suit trousers and office shoes; it was cold and horrible but the view was great.
3. What excites you most about the project?
The potential. I think what’s to come for the health and social sector is really exciting. I’m looking forward to adding true value. People will argue that “we’re adding value because we want to save money”. But that’s not the main driver here. We want to maintain and improve services, in what are challenging times in health and social care. Without finding new ways to do things and adopting new technologies we will struggle to manage the increased demand. It’s also about spotting an opportunity, leveraging an idea and then often realising that the basic principles of the use case or technology can be easily applied elsewhere: that’s what I find exciting.
4. What would you like people to know about your work?
West Mercia Rural 5G is actively working with real patients in rural environments and we’ve had feedback from care workers and clinicians that they really appreciate what we’re doing. It may not sound complicated but we’re making their working lives better and stimulating their ideas for what could happen next!
As for nexGworx, borne out of the Worcestershire 5G project, it is actively operating services to support businesses to understand capabilities and adopt new technologies, including but not limited to 5G.
5. What’s the biggest benefit you think 5G will bring to the UK?
In 2016, we thought it would be around improved productivity in industry and overcoming the challenges people within the health and social care sector face. Five years later, I still think these are amongst the two biggest markets. I can see brilliant opportunities through harnessing 5G, especially for increasing quality of life.