Why 5G is the future
Podcast transcription - 5th June
Alan Cowley Welcome to another invested investor podcast. This week I'm sat opposite Roz Singleton, Roz is the managing director of UK Broadband. She is the chair of the advisory board of UK 5G and she's an angel investor. How did you get into telco and just tell us a bit about yourself?
Ros Singleton Well I've been in telco about 30 years now. I started out many years ago before well before Telefonica was even selling out when it was still a boutique company. But that was my first job in telco. Before that I'd been all sorts of things receptionist tea lady you name it. But I started off getting people's calls, so I know some people who are fairly, senior ina Telefonica and are also doing mobile number portability, which is when you move your mobile number from one network to another. And I did that on a fax machine which tells you to fax Ofcom quite regularly. So that was how I started out. I've been very fortunate ever since to have a number, of opportunities come up and I've ended up being the managing director of a smallish wireless business.
Alan Cowley Okay so that's UK broadband. UK broadband. So, what drew you to telecommunications in the first place and what kind of why you stayed in the industry for the last 30 years.
Ros Singleton That's something I've often asked myself. So, what drew me in the first place was just a job. And then I really like the people I work with and I was really, lucky yes you were building one of the first ever networks across the country. Was just one so at the time and they'd originally launched a network mainly in London and we're building out across the country and not the people I worked with in the senior technical people willing to spend time with me and explain how things work. So, whilst I was doing night school, which I also sponsored, and I took to nature and business of finance I'm spectacular and qualified. They were also kind of spent on me teaching me about how networks work and about how telecommunications work. I've found that through my whole career and that's the thing that's kept me there is largely there are lots of people who love to share what they do and share information about what they do and are really open around that. I did have a couple of brief forays out into the world of security and I was a consultant for a while but largely ended up being mainly in telecoms. So, I guess at this point it's what I know, and I still love it.
Alan Cowley That's great to hear that there's so many people in your industry that have helped you and obviously helping others along the way. So, UK broadband what do you do?
Ros Singleton Yes well very few people have heard of us unless you live in telco world. We're only about 120 people and I'm going to say under 20 really great people I'm very proud of our business. We were actually bought by three UK the mobile network about 18 months ago for 300 million and that effectively is because we have a lot of spectrum that's effective form 5G and is a big part of the 5G spectrum moving forwards but also as a business we run something that's called the relish network in London which is wireless broadband for customers and it's going to be called Three broadband from actually Monday and we also do private campus networks so we manage operational networks for important sites like Heathrow Airport for example or Felixstowe which is the business container port in Britain for example we manage our operational networks for them and provide them with exceptional availability and service which again I'm really proud of.
Alan Cowley So, this background suggests that UK broadband had led you to become chair of the UK 5G advisory board.
Ros Singleton Yes, so, the UK 5G advisory board is about developing the ecosystem in the UK not about developing a telecoms network. So, I think some of the angel investing I've done and my networks around angel investing, also through having been in the industry for 30 years have given some of the advantages I'd need to be able to join that board. What I would say is it's very much about being able to make 5G effective for businesses and consumers and use it to try and improve the productivity of the UK as a, whole. While that necessarily being another string to the mobile companies bow.
Alan Cowley Okay so let's move on. What is 5G and what are the benefits for people across the globe?
Ros Singleton Well it's quite interesting really. So 5G is a new technology for mobile networks and how they work, it's actually part of New Radio which sort of tells you all we need to know it’s a new way of sending radio signals, basically from a base station to a device whether that's a phone or some other device it contains quite a lot of different bits of technology rather than just being about what we understand of mobiles and devices today. We have the Internet of Things, so something called narrowband radio which is basically for lots and lots of very small devices that don't need much data to move around all over the place. It's a good way of moving data around for those devices. So, for example if you collect data in your house from your alarm system, your garage door wherever it happens to be. Then how will that data get from one place to another is over some of this narrowband technology. So, you know machine to machine communications as well. One of the other things it provides is more security than 4G did. So as a radio system it is more secure and probably one of the biggest and most important features is that the communications will be much faster, effectively. So, if you are sending a signal from point A to Point B, whereas on 4G or hop technology you know it might take let's say 50 milliseconds, on 5G eventually, it can be as low as 10 milliseconds or even lower theoretically. Okay?
Alan Cowley So where are we with this?
Ros Singleton Well there is none as far as I'm aware in the UK, there is none commercially deployed as of this moment, today. There is no commercially deployed 5G. However, all the other names are running trials. We'll be running a small trial with some customers in Camden to try and make sure we build the best products for our customers because we talk to our customers a lot and it's really important that we make sure we have the best way to deliver broadband to them. Broadband is what most of the mobile networks all launch originally at the same time. There are lots of projects going on DCM MSA the Department of Digital Culture Media and Sport are funding some trials that are going on across the UK to cover Agri-Tech which includes fisheries as well as you know, more earth based agriculture, cows, which is very cool is a really nice app called me a move that you can get.
It covers automotive engineering healthcare, actually Bristol have a smart tourism trial going on that launched about two weeks ago, officially in Bristol and they did a simultaneous call between somebody singing somebody playing the violin and somebody playing the piano and because the speed of the 5G network is so fast you can actually hear it as one. So, I mean, imagine if you're in a band and you're in different places across the country which is true of a lot of bands. You in theory could all rehearse together at the same time. Yes.
Because again latency, you know, effects music a lot or remote surgery or remote physio those sorts of things, a couple of the entrepreneurs I work with deal with rehabilitation or physical therapy type devices, if you think about using VR. So, you could use VR for physical therapy rehabilitation, and you could in theory have two people doing physio. So if you take an older person stuck at home he needs to have the physio sessions, for a physio to drive to their house you know go and see them make sure they're moving, all those sorts of things, it’s actually quite time consuming, expensive to get somebody who's actually mobile independently you know with a camera and even a VR headset or even without one. Now you can easily imagine being able to run a physio session remotely, you know, where you can see that somebody is doing their exercises correctly and making progress. You could actually make sure they could do their exercises, massively reduce the chances that their injury is going to carry on a lot longer or you know that they would be less mobile for longer and you know those things are great, partly for health and wellbeing of people and also for productivity.
When do we expect to be able to see 5G realistically? So, the first devices have been launched. Anybody that has paid any attention to Mobile World Congress will know this but, I've seen in the papers a foldable phone that have come out from Samsung and for example. So those are stoked to be, you know, 5G phones and devices as we know them. Certainly, home broadband reaches out for wireless broadband in the market or we'll be in the market towards Q3 this year. I would expect that network buildout would be over 2020 2021 realistically so I would say by about 2022 we’ll be thinking very seriously about some of those health care and industrial applications.
So recently as part of the UK 5G work, the government's test bed and trials piece, that they're doing around 5G, they have launched the Urban Connected Communities trials in the West Midlands, a combined authority, one that they're about to kick off on developing basically a city wide 5G infrastructure and set of capabilities around it. One of the key things about 5G is, it's not really the mobile technology or the radio technology itself, it's the fact that it's a confluence of lots of different technologies. So, things like you know A.I. the Internet of Things. The industry is about 5G, it's about all this information being available and having a fast enough, way to put it together that you can do something meaningful and useful, in lots of different places. Your applications for healthcare, tourism, all sorts of things aren't dependent entirely on 5G, but it is a useful spearhead.
Alan Cowley I only live four miles from the City Centre and I don't get 4G in my house. Will 5G reach further or is it going to be a similar sort of thing as 4G where you need to be within striking distance?
Ros Singleton That is true of all radio waves no matter what G you are transmitting over them, the radio waves are still just radio waves at different frequencies. I mean, to really learn about this in any detail in the last few years is that obviously the higher the frequency the shorter the distance it goes and the less likely it is to penetrate through walls windows those sorts of things you stick a crane up in the way of something it can cause a problem. So, one of the things that we need to be aware of is to say 5G may not reach out into the country if your house is one of let's say three, it will never but 4G services can provide you perfectly reasonable coverage. The trick is to just get the coverage out there, there is a part of the country that isn't covered. Ofcom and the government stated their intention is to, make a policy where we try and make sure that fibre and wireless are concentrated in the the outer edges of the country, where there is less coverage and bring it in. So, the cities are the sort of last place to be considered in some ways. It doesn't mean they will build the cities but the commercial mechanisms to drive investment are already there.
Alan Cowley My question is, where do we need to help support investment outside of major cities and do you feel we have a social obligation to provide the network to the wider population?
Ros Singleton In some ways I do. In other ways we are not set up in a regulatory sense or a governance sense to request that private companies do that. It's one of the areas I think that we might be missing.
We often hear about so many billions of pounds or millions of pounds have been paid by the various mobile companies for the right to use a bit of spectrum which enables them to deliver this service to their customers, and basically, the more of it you have the more service you can deliver and in theory better service to your customers. The next auctions are toying geographical requirements, so, in some of the lowest spectrum, which would go a little bit further or actually quite a long way further, there is a geographical coverage requirement, to cover a lot more of the country, which obviously has quite a big capital investment attachment. I would say that coverage isn't just a feature of geography it's also a feature of whether, or not somebody wants something and to an extent income. So, there are, a number, of people who don't, for example have Wi-Fi, who don't have any internet at all, across the country. And there are quite a few more people in the country than you would imagine. And some people just don't want broadband or the Internet. You know that's perfectly fine. But if you take for example, some of our more vulnerable people in society then they may not be able to, or want to have broadband, or even know that they can have it, and actually it could be a key feature of looking after their wellness and their health and social care in the future. So, I think it's worth considering how we make sure that, rather than just covering, let's say national parks and things like that, we are, covering the needs that our society has.
Alan Cowley How will 5G help start-ups? I think it may provide some opportunities.
Ros Singleton There is a change coming and I can't see what that change is entirely. Partly some too old, partly because you never quite know what's around the next corner. But for example, if you think about how we get information out we're all centered around our phones right? Is it the primary of choice of device. So, even when we're at home and we call and it will be attached to what Wi-Fi use your phone or phone is what we look at all the time and it's where we store information and payments and tells people about us. If you look at markets like China for example everything is done on one of a couple of platforms, you know. So, everything from payments, shopping, a lot of the shopping over there now. You don't pay anyone. You put stuff in your basket. You scan it and then you pay using a phone. That's kind of it. You don't need to go through a till and obviously the background of these stores is also managed in a similar way. And there are now trials going on in quite a lot of places in the world. So that level of connectivity and ability to identify where things are, where people are, is going to become massively interesting. So, I can't even imagine what people would be able to come up with that will be useful or helpful or purchasable, if you think Uber was unthinkable 10 years ago absolutely, unthinkable. Now you know, we're thinking about a world where driverless cars mean everything is effectively a neighbor, or you are just calling a car and nobody owned cars anymore at least not in the cities. You know that is one very conceivable view of the world now.
Alan Cowley That was one of the things I was going to ask you was about, driverless cars in a remote location and how that would be affected.
Ros Singleton Well you would never have a device that didn't have a failsafe in it for health and safety reasons. It's quite interesting. There are a lot of robots and robot technology where the ideas are great, but they come from people who like technical ideas but, have never worked in an operation environment. So, for example about fire safety risks if you have a large number of engines,, petrol machines you know whatever in an area together, there is a fire safety risk, If yoo’ve got a critical national infrastructure site like a port or an airport, that is massively problematic because the consequences of that risk is so huge. So, there are a load of opportunities for people who are more experienced and have that knowledge to get in and help those companies as well. And that's kind of, what the UK 5G community is, instantly you can join the U.K. 5G on the website if you're interested. And if we need your advice or help, we will come and ask you for it. But you know that's part of what that community is for is to help provide advice and support around those sorts of questions and to help build a community around it. So, whether you work for a virtual company or a bigger company we're vastly experienced or you know you're out of college you've got an amazing idea. The idea is that we can hopefully work together a little bit, because people never achieved anything very much, by working independently. So, I really think you know that's all. Collaboration is something that we can do much better nowadays and we need to just turn our minds to it a little bit more.
Alan Cowley That sounds like not just the start-ups but for the whole of society that 5G will be extremely beneficial even those people that may not use the Internet it might be beneficial in some way.
Ros Singleton I think it's not just 5G, I think the idea of being more connected as a country. So, you know quite a lot of Scotland for example isn't very well covered. And what we could achieve is what they call modal shift. So you know moving people out of cars onto trains for example, if you have decent coverage on a train line you would possibly think, you know, I'll go between these two points on a train rather than a car because I could work or watch a movie or whatever. Whereas, at the, moment the chances are more likely that you won't have decent line all the way, you'll be stood up half the time you know those sorts of things. But if you can change those factors, just a tiny bit, we can help and that can change those factors, if you can make it possible, so people can work from home well, so work life balance is better. Also, you can build better businesses in different parts of the country rather than everything being so centric to cities and, in-particular London and the south east, then we could do some really, useful things.
Alan Cowley Let’s transition into the other part of your job, which is angel investing, which you've been doing for about three years now. So why did you start investing?
Ros Singleton I was very interested, I often talk to people about this. I am a woman in telecoms and technology events, and it was about entrepreneurship and those, sort of things. I still run those events annually. I saw Sarah Turner who's the CEO of Angel Academy which is the angel group I am on the advisory board for. One of her entrepreneurs she had funded was speaking about big data and place, I come from an I.T. background. So, for me all this was what I know but it's interesting. And they were both lovely, very approachable and I've never even thought about angel investing before. They had struck me as a bunch of guys in blue seats marching around who knew spreadsheets and had hundreds of thousands of pounds to invest. I'm pretty good with a spreadsheet but I can't read a balance sheet in the same way that my finance director can. I saw Sarah and I got in touch with her and she very kindly invited me to an Angel Academy event, and it was just really, nice. I was looking at the notes yesterday. So, I was looking for something else, from the first time I went in, and to invest in any of the companies, but it was interesting and stimulating and very friendly. People were helpful if I asked some questions about angel investing, and so that was how I ended up doing it because the environment was comfortable for me. I didn't feel exclusionary at all and I even went on something called Investor Academy, which is four, hour long sessions that teaches you about things like, a head of terms and tax rules and I think you might do due diligence. So again you know that just that level of support and help that was really useful for me starting out in the same way that when I went to play golf I started off by having lessons rather than just playing that's just the way I work. But that was terrific and really, helpful.
Alan Cowley Okay, so what's your personal process like, when you're making an investment?
Ros Singleton A lot of it is about the people, this is true when you're investing as anything else. You absolutely need to have faith in the management team of the business. And I to believe, I get to take advice that's massively important to me, even if it's not my advice that kind of isn't the point, but that they know when to reach out and ask for help. It's the same thing I look for in most people actually, if you know do you have a clue what you don't know, and where you think you need help because nothing's ever perfect and they'll always be areas whether it's say, marketing or technology or whatever, where a start-up or a scale up has a little bit of weakness.
They just need to be willing to take a little bit of input and work with us. And helping me to listen to feedback on how organized they need to be. I tend to go through a due diligence process as part of a syndicate. That's how we work as a company, so, a big group of us. Somebody will lead it. I'm just closing a deal at the, moments and we'll go through a whole process of, basically coming up with a deal memo. So, you know everybody will have a different job. Everybody's responsible for their own due diligence at the end of the day and everybody works through a different area. And you know we put a report together, people speak in conference calls those sorts of things. So if in time you get to the end of the process you've got a degree of confidence that you at least, understand what the business is doing what the level of risk is, what the entrepreneurs are like and where I come in, I like to actually talk to the founding team quite a lot because they think that's really telling. You know how much they know about their business, how well they know the numbers, how much they know, how important the numbers are.
Alan Cowley Do you like to speak some face to face?
Ros Singleton Yes, I do.
Alan Cowley So, does that mean that your investments are within the UK?
Ros Singleton Yes, but I would consider abroad. But again, it’s that contact thing, of getting to know someone, it's aligning to see them all the time, as at least you know seeing them face to face. So, for example we invested in Technology Will Save Us last year, which is a company that makes educational and technical toys. Brilliant. For grown-ups as well, things like that, and make your own synth kit you know and stuff like that. I am the archetypal, nerdy auntie you know, absolutely, terrific, they have a little factory in East London. So, I didn't have time to get to see it myself, but lots of my colleagues who were investing went see it. So, we get reports back, we share information. So, when I can't do that myself and somebody else can, you know that's really, useful too.
Alan Cowley So obviously you work full time already. Yes.
Ros Singleton So, angel investing on the side, an expensive hobby. Yes.
Alan Cowley But, as a hobby do you think that limits the amount of investment you make, or do you think that, if you did angel investing full time, you'd still only maybe make one investment a year?
Ros Singleton The last couple of years I've made four or five investments a year. Time is my constraining factor quite often. Weirdly, as with everybody in the world, everything seems to bunch up at once, like it will be quiet at one point and then the thing will be busy. So, at the, moment literally every part of my life is very busy. I think if I was independently wealthy and I wasn't working, I think I would probably do more. But I am time limited and in terms of doing due diligence, understanding the business well enough to think whether or not, I will get a return, plus the fact that money is limited and I want to see a return, that I can't really afford to just be turned away.
So, I'm building my portfolio quite carefully at the, moment but I'd love to spend more time working with entrepreneurs and you know, looking at their businesses, because it's endlessly interesting and I learn about new technologies. I've known about block change for like three or four years largely because of the angel investing or at a level that most people wouldn't necessarily have understood it beyond bitcoin. Big data is another area of interest and I learn about all sorts of different things and I love that. I find it very inspiring and it helps the rest of my life because it just gives you different ideas and different viewpoints.
Alan Cowley Sounds like you really truly enjoy it a lot.
Ros Singleton Yes.
Alan Cowley Well that's brilliant and exactly what an invested investor is. So, you are part of a largely, female angel investment group?
Ros Singleton So Angel Academe is about 70% female and often when men go in, they are rather taken aback because they're not used to being, a minority in the room. My life, and my life in telecommunication’s has been like that, particularly since I've been in the more technical side, and I don't think it's got that much better. Certainly, I know because we often try and recruit a very diverse workforce.
We have people from all over the world. I'm very proud of that and I really enjoy the mix of cultures that we have. But in terms of gender diversity we are not in a place I would like to be, in our technical teams. Central London is probably a little bit more difficult in some ways, but telcos generally is still largely a preserve of white 50, year old guys, sort of feels that way to me. So, over a certain level probably, a lot of the big telcos are based in the suburbs as well, which makes a difference. But there is not the level of diversity at board level, I would hope to have seen by now.
Alan Cowley How do you change that?
Ros Singleton Short of, being in charge, of the world? No, what I mean is, do we educate from GCSE or whatever level. I don't know the answer to the problem, how we change that? It is one of the answers I would love to figure out.
There is something called the Technology Charter, companies sign up to it and it's a diversity thing and it's a really, great initiative. Yes, there are a number, of initiatives across the industry, to try and increase the number of young people going into engineering, obviously, from all sorts of backgrounds you know, which includes gender diversity, ethnic diversity and your cultural diversity. I don't know the answer to getting more people, particularly young women into engineering. The numbers have not climbed since I was a teenager and that's a really, big concern. How much of it is down to relative image, relative pay. What I do know, is that where do you get the graduates? Quite a lot of people fall out of engineering fairly, early on in their careers for a variety of reasons and end up going into things like accounting, for example because I think that they are slightly more friendly environments. People who want a different sort of balance to their life. So, I honestly don't know what the answer is, I do know it's massively helpful and certainly I believe that businesses do better with more diverse teams, because you need a range of views.
Alan Cowley But, it sounds like your early career, you did have quite positive feelings from people on the way. So maybe you just need to do that?
Ros Singleton Well yes, I had lots of people who helped me, male and female and because of the nature of telecoms primarily, maybe they didn't help me because I was a woman or because I wasn't a man or you know it wasn't anything to do with that. Was a fact, I was interested and largely brave enough to go and talk to fairly senior people and ask for their help, because I was doing college work and those sorts of things, and I am going to say you know I'm not a trained engineer, I'm quite technical, just because I've learned a lot over the years, but I'm not a trained engineer in any way shape or form. All the support and help I've had, has been you know, from all different areas of the business, I love learning and I've worked in nearly every possible area now of a telco. I think one way or another we can all support the people coming up behind us, again you know, regardless of who they are, but it is quite difficult to say, how do we do that in a way that makes sure that we are not just picking people who are like us, because it's really easy to support somebody who is like you. They don't look like you. Maybe you have the same sort of thought patterns as you or the same political views and I'm increasingly conscious that we need to be quite careful, not to be so homogenous around those things.
Alan Cowley Well I completely agree. Ross this has been absolutely, fantastic. I've learned a lot about 5G communications. Personally, I didn't know a huge amount, but just to hear about your diverse background and know how much you enjoy being an angel investor, it's just utterly brilliant. So, thank you.
Peter Cowley Thanks for listening to another Invested Investor podcast. You can subscribe to all future podcasts via our Web site. InvestedInvestor.com or via a number, of podcast platforms online. Remember you can order our book online and be sure to follow us on Twitter, Linked In and on Facebook to get the most up to date, interesting and insightful content from the Invested Investor.