By Andrew Conway Director of Engineering, BAI Communications UK

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 driving the industry forward.

I recently had the opportunity to take part in an innovation tour, visiting China and South Korea. Joined by colleagues from Sydney, Hong Kong, New York and Canada, 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 was able to experience data rates of up to 600Mbps on my mobile – 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.

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. The scientific and engineering professions are highly valued and, 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 that could well play a part in the approaches we employ in Europe. Closer to home, following the recent publication of the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, the UK is at a key stage when it comes to the communications infrastructure roadmap that will drive economic growth.

It’s important we seek out best practices and learnings 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.