During my career working at both network operators and equipment suppliers, I’ve always found it interesting to see the different ways organisations overseas approach the same communications challenges we face here in the UK. Now in my role at BAI Communications, a global specialist in transport communications, it’s even more important to keep learning from the key international trends and sourcing innovation inspiration overseas to drive the industry forward.

I recently had the opportunity to take part in an innovation tour, visiting China and South Korea. Where my colleagues from Sydney, Hong Kong, New York and Canada joined me. I got to learn about the latest developments driving the quality and consistency of communications networks. Here are some of my main takeaways.

Hong Kong’s award-winning innovations

While in Hong Kong, I visited Radio Frequency Engineering Limited (RFE), the BAI Communications company responsible for designing, installing and maintaining cellular and Wi-Fi communications across the city’s underground and light railway networks. With 90 railway stations, 68 light railway stops, and approximately two billion journeys each year, this is a significant proposition, encompassing a broad range of technical and logistical challenges. Indeed, Hong Kong is often cited as a leading metro globally.

Having spent the last two decades designing and installing communications networks, RFE has earned a reputation for innovation. This includes pioneering some of the leading communications technologies used in underground environments. Lightweight RF test tools, for instance, help engineers access work sites quicker, some of which might involve a 50 minute walk through subterranean tunnels.

RFE’s recent project has seen it install new Distributed Antenna System (DAS) networks and Multiple-Input and Multiple-Output (MIMO) technology across the West Island Line underground. An award winning project, the network was installed in just five days. While travelling on the line I experienced data rates of up to 600Mbps on my mobile. That is around ten times what I might typically receive above ground.

Superfast wireless in South Korea

South Korea is undeniably a thought leader in the development of wireless technologies. While the success of the country’s smartphones might be the most well-known evidence of this fact, the country also has a fantastic track record in wireless infrastructure innovation, including 5G.

I was struck by the almost ubiquitous access to superfast wireless – 4G to 4.5G is available everywhere, and not-spots are practically non-existent. The impact is highly visible when in public places like travelling on public transport. Everywhere you look, passengers are seamlessly streaming live baseball or their favourite sitcoms, even on the underground.

Skills Acquisition in South Korea

What really impressed me is the way South Korea has established itself as a leader in IT and telecommunications. Societal driven, the country prioritizes education and the acquisition of STEM skills. South Koreans highly value the scientific and engineering professions. As a result, the country has a fast, young and highly educated workforce to draw upon.

Earlier this year, this approach to skills acquisition played a part in South Korea being ranked one of the most innovative countries in the world. Ranking criteria covered everything from the concentration of tech companies to the number of science and engineering graduates. Other countries wanting to boost their innovation credentials would be well advised to look to South Korea for a successful long-term strategies in this area.

Both South Korea and Hong Kong are doing incredible things in the connectivity space. These examples could well play a part in the approaches we employ in Europe. Closer to home, the UK is at a key stage in the communications infrastructure roadmap that will drive economic growth. In particular following the recent publication of the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review.

It’s important we seek out best practices from around the world to ensure networks are best-in-class, innovative and future proofed. Moreover, we’ll have the right skills in place to design, build and maintain them.