Pictured above (from left) is Malcolm Keys with Ken Ranger (CEO, BAI Communications Canada) and Billy D’Arcy (CEO, BAI Communications UK) at the Train Comms 2018 event in London.

Malcolm Keys has been with BAI since 2004 in various leadership roles including CIO and Director of Telecommunications. For five years he ran the Emergency Services and Critical Communications division of the company in Sydney, previously known as Airwave Solutions Australia. In 2015 he moved to London to help set up BAI’s new business division in Europe, which focuses on transport telecommunications.

It’s been two years since we sat down with Malcolm, not long after he moved to the UK. We recently caught up again, to find out about the important challenges being tackled in the industry, how they’ve changed and evolved, key trends and some highlights of his career to date.

What’s the most exciting development happening in the industry right now?

There’s a lot of buzz around the potential of 5G along with the expectation that there’s going to be a great leap forward in the way we all use wireless networks in the future. In the 90’s we launched 2G mobile services focused on voice. Data was limited to SMS and a trickle of Bits. Today high speed 4G/LTE wireless networks meet our insatiable appetite for on-demand connectivity. Each generation of mobile technology has brought a new wave of investment in fibre, tower and shared network infrastructure that has underpinned BAI’s expansion outside our traditional broadcast business in Australia. Today our industry is preparing the groundwork for the next generation 5G networks. In metropolitan areas, these 5G networks will require up to 10 times more transmission sites than today’s networks. At street level, small cells may be deployed every 200 metres or less and connected by optic fibre to provide high capacity data services. Given the infrastructure we have deployed in major cities for our transport partners, BAI is well placed to play a major role in the future of 5G.

Since your move to the UK, what are the biggest differences and similarities you’ve noticed between Australian and European markets?

I see differences in the speed at which different countries are rolling out different technologies and variations in the infrastructure choices being made in each market. For example, Australia was an early adopter of 4G, which was rolled out very rapidly across the country, while in London, the cost to deploy infrastructure is higher and as a result, the roll out of 4G has been much slower. In New York, due to population density, they have deployed a large quantity of 4G small cells already at street level.

In terms of similarities, the era of 5G is almost upon us and no country wants to be a laggard. Mobile operators are in a race to be first to market and are again buying new spectrum. Governments are trying to position their country and cities as leaders in 5G. The promise of a lasting impact on the productivity and efficiency, everything from IoT to autonomous transport, will see 5G strategies driven hard by governments to help ensure they aren’t left behind.

What is the biggest challenge about your job and how do you overcome it?

Digital technology in devices and networks, has become commonplace and is now embedded in our everyday life. However, the peak for wireless infrastructure and usage is still in the future. While we’ve seen exponential growth in users and capacity on the network, demand for wireless infrastructure still comes in peaks and troughs. The smart phone is a good example. It drove a new level of expectation for high-speed broadband coverage, but 3G networks were only built for voice coverage and a reasonable, albeit limited, amount of data. We’re still playing catch up, to provide the capacity that is required for smart phones and video streaming.

The high cost to deploy new networks has lead the UK to pioneer RAN sharing (Radio Access Networks), where mobile operators share a single network. This mirrors the kind of service we provide in city subways, a single neutral host network, shared by all mobile operators. It is quite possible that due to the challenging economics of this 5th generation technology (10x denser network without an increase in average revenue per customer) that the new networks could follow this neutral host model. This is a great opportunity for BAI – and it’s where my excitement around 5G comes in – another leap forward in demand for wireless infrastructure and a chance to help the industry address the economic and practical challenges to bring 5G services into reality.

What’s the most exciting thing about your job?

Building a great team here in London is a key focus and area of enjoyment for me. Since we set up the UK office, we’ve grown the team significantly with talented people, who bring a wealth of experience in the UK telco market.