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OUTLOOK 2017: You’ve got to be in it …

Graham Pitcher, Group Editor, New Electronics

The electronics industry in the UK has evolved since the publication in 2005 of the Electronics Innovation and Growth Team’s (EIGT) report on its future.
One of the findings of the EIGT report was that most trade associations purporting to represent UK electronics companies were little more than talking shops. Its recommendation was for the industry to get its act together in terms of representation. But it also noted a significant gap between the work being carried out by academia and the needs of small to medium companies (SMEs) in the sector.

The EIGT report also pointed out the large gap between the work being carried out by academia and the needs of SMEs. That gap was intended to be plugged by the Electronics Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN).

Amongst the organisation’s aims was to raise the profile of the UK’s electronics sector and to create more coherence, in part by creating a common network.

But, almost as soon as it was set up, it was rolled up into a ‘super KTN’ addressing electronics, sensors and photonics. Looking to represent the interests of the electronics sector, the organisation was reformed as the Electronics Technology Network (ETN, or e-net) and operated under the umbrella of Intellect, which rebranded itself techUK. Now, since June 2016, e-net has become part of the Cambridge Wireless organisation.

Cambridge Wireless (CW) brings together around 400 high tech companies around the world which develop products and applications based on a range of technologies.

It also runs Special Interest Groups (SIGs), which allow members to learn about the latest technological and market developments, promote their organisations and network with similar minded people.

“CW will, above all, continue to be an organisation driven by its members and we are determined to be relevant both for industry leaders and the next generation of technology engineers and entrepreneurs.”

Bob Driver, CEO, Cambridge Wireless

As well as SIG events, CW organises larger events, including the Future of Wireless Conference and the Discovering Start-Ups Competition. One of its latest events was held in September 2016 at the University of Cambridge’s Computer Lab. The CW Technology and Engineering Conference explored how quantum technology could change the face of computing and communications.

Bob Driver is CW’s chief executive. He explained the CW approach: “One of the key things is that we’re member driven; we’re not a lobbying organisation. We’re interested in bringing companies together to network, to learn from each other and to grow.” And that was one of the big attractions for the e-net management team. “Our approach seemed to fit with e-net’s outlook,” he continued.

So how well has the integration process worked and what does the future hold for those e-net members who are now part of the CW network?

“At the moment, we don’t have an SIG looking at electronic design as such,” Driver said. “But many of CW’s members are doing things that include electronics, so there’s an appetite for things to happen – and our job is to make those things happen.”

The message from Driver is that CW is open to previous members of e-net, as well as other UK electronics companies, to get involved in its activities.

Driver said the recent quantum technology event was a great success. “Quantum technology is one of those areas where we can take a look behind the technology and explore some of the ‘heavy engineering’ involved.

“It was a challenging event; even some of the attendees with a strong background in physics left the day with their heads hurting – and that’s what it was meant to achieve.”

CW is also interested in promoting IoT security. “In our latest event, we adopted the premise that ‘people don’t need to worry about IoT security’,” Driver said. “At many of these types of event, people try to scare you, but then say that, if you have good practices, that will get rid of many potential security problems and that ‘new technology will help’.

“What we tried to do at this event was to reveal some of the deeper issues, to point out that there is still an awful lot of things that need to be worked out.”

One of the presentations at the event was from security specialist Darktrace. This company’s technology ‘learns’ what is normal activity for a company’s network. Once it has learned what’s normal, the technology can detect cyberattacks of a type that may not have been seen before.

According to Darktrace, the ability to self learn and adapt to a changing environment in real-time allows organisations to operate in a connected world, whilst protecting themselves against serious threats in an effective and pragmatic way.

Meanwhile, CW is organising a range of events in the coming months, addressing topics such as wireless healthcare and virtual reality. “There’s also our start up competition,” Driver continued, “for which we’ve already shortlisted 10 companies.”

The shortlisted start ups are addressing a number of market sectors. Included in the shortlist are: 8power, developing wireless monitoring and sensing products; dividiti, which says it is on an ‘interesting mission’ to enable efficient, reliable and cheap computing everywhere’; cupris, whose technology can be used to diagnose hearing loss and ear conditions remotely; mesh:ine, working on providing smartphone communication without a carrier network; and SenSat, which wants to digitise the world.

“We’ll be running debates on 5G,” Driver said, “in collaboration with the National Infrastructure Commission.

“A lot of the time, discussions about 5G are conducted from the technology point of view,” Driver contended. “But what people aren’t talking about it is the business side of things. For example, one question we’ll be addressing is whether 5G is needed, when things like fast 4G and LPWANs are emerging.

“We’re getting involved in a range of things,” Driver continued, “and all of this activity is leading up to our annual conference in June 2017.”

So why should a UK electronics company get involved with CW? “We’ve got about 430 members,” he said, “ranging from very large companies, like BT, Microsoft and ARM, to start ups. We also take in technology consultancies like Cambridge Consultants, TTP and Plextek.

“The rationale is to bring members together so they can learn about developments and, importantly, to network. And one of the areas in which we are told that we are strong is at looking at the issues behind technologies and at market trends.”

While the name Cambridge Wireless implies a particular area of technology interest, the net spreads more widely. “We’re interested in everything to do with connecting things and people together,” said Driver, “as well as content, electronic design and test and measurement.”

There are currently 19 special interest groups (SIGs) – soon to be expanded to 23 – covering a ‘huge area’ in Driver’s opinion. “Some are cross cutting groups,” he said, “other are aligned vertically, such as healthcare, security and automotive.”

Each SIG is driven by a number of so called SIG Champions, who determine the strategy and events line up.

So while CW might not have a group devoted explicitly to electronic design, many members of the SIGs will be looking to take advantage of the latest electronics technology in order to develop their products and technologies.

“CW will, above all, continue to be an organisation driven by its membersand we are determined to be relevant both for industry leaders and the next generation of technology engineers and entrepreneurs,” Driver asserted.

One of CW’s strategic aims matches closely the ambition of the Electronics KTN when it was launched a decade ago: to build connections between academia, the scientific and research community and the wireless and related industries.

But, to paraphrase a well known slogan, if you’re not in CW, you won’t be able to take advantage and the organisation welcomes all electronics companies to consider joining.

Author
Graham Pitcher

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