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Innovating with Ofcom data - themes and challenges

Earlier in the year, we announced our latest project working with Ofcom to understand more about how their open data is being used, and how it could be used by more people in the future.

Over the course of February, we held 3 warm up events in cities across the UK - Leeds, Cardiff, Edinburgh - producing pages of notes, data requests, stimulating questions, and more (all available on this webpage). All of this content has now helped us form a running order with interesting speakers and develop some suggested challenges for the innovation day.

There has been some very interesting comments and thoughts surrounding the kind of data Ofcom have or could have in the future, and of course there are always recurring themes.

Mobile/Broadband coverage & speed was mentioned at each of the warm up sessions but it was interesting to note the reasons why people were interested. In Leeds this kind of data would be useful in terms of applying for funding for small business improvements and whether an application could be approved, whereas in Scotland people wanted to explore why the uptake of broadband or mobile services might be low. More technical topics covered the spectrum map already available from Ofcom (and how it could be improved); the desire for more 'license-free' space on the spectrum for innovative use, as seen with IoT, LoRAWAN, Bluetooth, etc; and how do we start defining what a 'good' coverage even looks like? This last question has far-reaching implications for policy and infrastructure projects - how would a community prove that they do not have good enough broadband speeds if 'good enough' hasn't been defined?

From the masses of notes and discussions, we've come up with some broad challenges and themes for the innovation day in March. These are suggestions for exploration but we always welcome ideas that people bring with them to our innovation events.

1. 'Questions, questions, questions'

Asking questions is a good thing. Not only is it a sign of curiosity but a desire to find answers. This challenge is about two things: what questions we might put to Ofcom; and what questions might Ofcom ask. For example, what questions could be answered by the Connected Nations report? Can we get a better spectrum map? What would an Ofcom data API include?

2. 'Can I take your measurements?'

Mobile and broadband provision is often used in discussions about productivity - a 'better connected' place is more likely to grow economically and so forth. But how are we measuring connectivity? Is it the right way to measure it? And how do we then compare ourselves to other parts of the world? Is connectivity in Wales better or worse than parts of Africa? Would the answer surprise you...

3. 'Flawless coverage'

Perhaps easier to achieve with liquid foundation than with mobile or broadband service, a lot of discussions around improving services for people are often stymied by a lack of data about actual coverage. You can use an ISP's coverage checker prior to signing up for a broadband plan and some mobile providers also do the same. But what if you needed a complete picture, of all the providers at once? What if you needed to see the areas that the big service providers can't reach? What if a coverage checker could use other available data to give you a real picture of connectivity, for example the material your house is made from can hugely affect signal strength.