Abstracts: November 7th, 2012

With 4G imminent, public service managers should be thinking hard about implications of this new development in a world where 3G has already made mobile internet use routine.

This warning comes from the Society for IT Management in a report ‘4G mobile telephony: coming to a town near you?’ The report sets out the challenges and opportunities and provides advice about what local public service organisations need to do about them.

Thanks to 3G, says the report, people are already conditioned to accessing data and services whenever and wherever they happen to be, and are used to transacting business from their mobiles when they are on the move. Commerce has whetted user appetites for features and functions, and the public sector must respond or at least manage expectations.

Limited 4G services are already underway in London, Birmingham, Manchester,Cardiff and Bristol and 20 million people are able to receive services already.

While these cities will gain economically from the development, other towns and cities will see themselves on the wrong side of this digital divide in the short term. Meanwhile some rural areas have yet to see even 3G access.

There are options for local authority interventions in these situations, says the report. Providing public access WiFi in town centres is one option that is already underway (in Westminster, Newham and Havering, for example) but it is an expensive one. Councils might consider working in partnership with commercial providers to bring access. The local economy would benefit while commercial partners would gain from being able to establish a foothold in an area ahead of competitors.

Securing the necessary facilities for citizens and business is only the start, says the report. Councils must find resources to format the most intensively used pages of their websites for mobile. This is more important than providing mobile apps, although 30% of public sector organisations are developing or buying into this option.

The report points out that an alternative solution to developing or buying apps it to ‘crowdsource’ them, by publishing data sets on the internet so that members of the community with the relevant technical skill and interest can write and publish them. Transport for London is cited as an organisation that has had significant success with this approach.

Apart from citizen benefits, 4G will enhance mobile and flexible working, helping public and third sector organisations save money at a time of severe austerity.

With a fully functioning marketplace for competitive 4G services a year or so away, public and third sector ICT managers should be initiating an informed debate with top management and elected members about their organisations’ response. They need to be considering the potential impact upon the local economy, and the extent to which the organisation wishes to commit resources in order to take advantage of this latest step in the information revolution.

The report is available here.