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James Dunning of Syrinix On How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives

An Interview With David Liu

5G infrastructure is being installed around the world. At the same time, most people have not yet seen what 5G can offer. What exactly is 5G? How will it improve our lives? What are the concerns that need to be addressed before it is widely adopted?

In our series, called, How 5G Technology May Improve and Impact Our Lives, we are talking to tech and telecom leaders who can share how 5G can impact and enhance our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing James Dunning.

With more than 25 years of experience in the utility sector, James Dunning joined Syrinix as CEO in 2010 — an award-winning global market leader in providing high-resolution data-led insights for water utility networks. James led Syrinix’s transition from early stage University spinout to a company with an international outlook and global customer base. Prior to Syrinix, James served as a City lawyer and graduate of the London Business School, as well as holding senior positions within the corporate utility sphere and as a successful entrepreneur in the renewables sector.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

From quite an early age, my ambition was to be a lawyer wearing a corporate suit — think some combination of Suits, LA Law (for the older readers!) and Succession. As time went on, I realized I wanted to be the decision maker rather than the adviser (and was also less and less keen on others deciding how my career would progress). So one transformational MBA later, and jumping off the corporate ladder when my employer went under, here I am 15 years of entrepreneurship later and still loving it.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

That’s easy, Benjamin Franklin’s “Laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes him.” I think I read that in Readers Digest (how old am I!) in my teens and just thought “yup!” There and then I wrote it on some paper, framed it and had it on my wall for years.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When a new project management system was being introduced at the corporation I was working at, let’s just say I was not a fan and was pretty vocal about that too — I suspect I was not the easiest employee to manage! Anyway, my boss at the time rang me and said, very nicely, “James you need to be on the train or get off” (i.e. leave). The lesson has stuck with me that complaining is really easy and coming up with effective solutions is not. I stopped complaining, stayed on the train and my boss was later kind enough to support me on my Executive MBA too.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Are you working on any new or exciting projects? How do you think that will help people?

The global water sector is under massive strain at the moment. Climate change and urbanization continue to create huge challenges whilst COVID-19 has transformed the way their networks operate (and revenues too). Our company mission is to support infrastructure supporting society, and it is a real privilege to work in the water sector where, almost without exception, people are so focussed on wanting to do a great job helping provide such a fundamental resource. We have a number of projects on-going providing utilities with data-led insights to help them run their networks more efficiently, including finding and fixing leaks more quickly. The more we can help utilities save time and money, the better.

Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Like 4G, 5G has many different facets, and I’m sure many will approach this question differently. But for the benefit of our readers can you explain to us what 5G is? How is 5G different from its predecessor 4G?

5G is the next stage in the development of mobile connectivity following on from 2G, 3G and 4G. Using new technologies and higher frequency bands, 5G promises much (much!) faster download and upload speeds and improved reliability too. It will also be able to transmit much higher volumes of data and support a much greater number of connections at any one time (think at a concert or sporting event).

Can you share three or four ways that 5G might improve our lives? If you can please share an example, for each.

As water utilities look to manage their networks more efficiently and effectively, 5G is going to transform how they operate. Syrinix is already providing high-resolution data, but with 5G it will be possible to provide even clearer network visualisations and reporting. Reviewing network events and planning network maintenance will move from 2-D to 3-D to reduce the impact on customers. Leak detection and repair will become near real time, reducing interruptions considerably. Employees too will be able to visualise and receive relevant asset data and analysis in real time as they work on the network.

Aside from the water industry, creating truly autonomous vehicles able to communicate reliably in near real-time with surrounding traffic and infrastructure is, of course, one of the most anticipated benefits. But 5G will go well beyond that in its impact. In the medical sector, remote diagnostics will be facilitated by the ability to transfer large imaging files quickly and easily whilst remote monitoring will allow patients to be monitored more efficiently. With improved augmented reality and virtual reality, the ability to plan less intrusive procedures will improve with AI as an aid, or even replacement, of human diagnostics.

For consumers, not just in multi-player gaming but throughout the home, 5G will likely drastically increase connectivity and automation. For businesses, meanwhile, supply chain monitoring, geo-locating, forecasting, customer experiences and customisation will all benefit from the increased speeds, reliability and capacity that 5G will provide.

Even without 5G, the level of surveillance of society generally is already at extraordinary levels in various regions of the world, including the UK. From which cars enter which towns and cities when, through to facial recognition on every street corner, the risks for those out of step with governing policies is an increasing issue around the world.

With the ever-increasing data dependency, what better material for a Black Mirror episode than the consequences of the internet failing either for a short period or even a longer time? Whether humans are 3 or 9 missed meals away from anarchy, it would not take long for supply chains to buckle and societal and work networks to fracture.

Internet connectivity is increasingly a utility in the same way as electricity gas and water with clean water the most precious of them all. This is a hugely complex area but, to paraphrase Churchill’s comments about democracy, commercial forces are perhaps the least ineffective mechanism for increasing internet usage. Witness the leapfrogging of wired networks to mobile networks in many developing nations and the rise of mobile-based solutions, including financial, that followed from that. Remove the barriers to commercial investment and be amazed at what transpires.

Excellent. We are nearly done. Let’s zoom out a bit and ask a more general question. Based on your experience and success, what are the 5 things you need to create a highly successful career in the telecommunication industry? (Please share a story or example for each.)

The key to success is helping users — in our case, water utilities — concentrate on the data that is actually useful. When a pipe bursts in a major city, for instance, it can cause huge disruption unless the burst can be located and the pipeline shut down very quickly. Key to that is not just monitoring but making sure reporting is reliable, frequent and also directed to the correct people. On multiple occasions Syrinix has allowed its customer utilities to be fixing bursts before people have even realized the burst has happened and that makes a massive difference for the utility.

So what are the 5 key factors?

First and foremost is reliability. Without that any service you provide will not be trusted. From there you then need clarity, about what you can communicate and when, and configurability so our customers can choose what information they receive rather than being told what they will be getting. Cost is, of course, always a factor; you don’t need to be the cheapest but you do need to be in the ball park! And, last, but by no means least, you need to be customer focussed, understanding their needs and creating a relationship where feedback is provided not as a criticism but in joint pursuit of success. After all, if your solution is not being used properly then someone at some point is going to cancel your contract.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

That’s a very big question! There are so many brilliant organisations that are already doing so many amazing things from providing healthcare to installing clean water bores and filters right through to supporting education and eradicating disease.

I have been involved in a few initiatives over the years including, many moons ago, encouraging corporate lawyers to help in deprived communities, helping at a local sports club for children and teens and also participating in business mentoring sessions for teenagers. If I could only choose one thing though, and COVID-19 was no longer an issue, and that is not just copying what others are already doing? Well it would be to teach teenagers to stand tall, shake hands firmly and look the other person in the eye. It sounds trite and desperately old fashioned amidst the world’s problems and fashions, but a job can make all the difference to someone and, when you apply for a job, you only get one chance to make a first impression — so many unfortunately make a poor first impression because they’ve never been taught properly this one simple thing.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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