How advancements in technology are shaping the future of the economy in North East England

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Technology is an area that touches every part of our lives, and in recent years it’s had a significant impact on how we work. From the expansion of flexible working and cloud computing to artificial intelligence and global connectivity – technology is shaping the future of our economy.
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Technology is an area that touches every part of our lives, and in recent years it’s had a significant impact on how we work. From the expansion of flexible working and cloud computing to artificial intelligence and global connectivity – technology is shaping the future of our economy.

I’ve recently returned from MWC Barcelona, one of the largest and most influential events looking at the future of tech and the connectivity ecosystem. This year’s event attracted more than 100,000 delegates from over 200 countries.

Major themes at the conference included 5G (and the adoption of 6G), humanising AI, digital adoption in manufacturing, and connectivity. There were also discussions around digital health, FinTech, cyber security, and green tech. It was a deep dive into some of the biggest topics in technology today.

It was a great opportunity to meet top global companies and trailblazing tech startups to promote North East England’s research expertise, Centres of Excellence, and key investment opportunities. It was also an opportunity to get a better understanding of investor needs.

What was particularly interesting was thinking about how these technological advances are being addressed in North East England, and what the opportunities are for our economy.

Cyber security

It’s estimated that the cost of cybercrime will reach $13 trillion US dollars by 2028. Understandably, one of the biggest areas of discussion amongst industry leaders was how new, emerging technologies can be protected from cyber threats and breaches. How, for example, can we deliver strong security and privacy in smartphones, and how can we shield vulnerable populations whilst empowering consumers and businesses?

It was recently announced that CyberNorth – a cyber security cluster for the North East of England – is to open two pilot innovation centres in Newcastle and Durham to pioneer early-stage businesses in the cyber security field. The centres will collaborate with one of the UK’s most successful new FinTech businesses – County Durham-based Atom Bank – to foster innovation and growth in the sector and tackle some of the industry’s major challenges. It also plans to upskill and provide work experience to young adults in the area.

5G and beyond

Since its launch more than five years ago, 5G has had a significant impact on a wide range of industries. From improving speeds and reducing latency to increasing connectivity and productivity, 5G provides the bedrock for a lot of the new technologies that are being introduced into the workplace.

At MWC Barcelona, businesses highlighted that demand for cost effective private 5G has increased, and that the technological leap required for 6G will span business, technology, and society. Operators were encouraged to change their business models; working with partners to advance future growth in AI, robotics, and cloud based 5G services with ‘digital optimism’ being the key phrase and vision.

Here in the North East, Sunderland City Council is using 5G to create the UK’s smartest city. Using the city as a living lab, its private 5G small cell network offers investors the opportunity to try out new solutions that will enhance the lives of local people, businesses and improve efficiencies across multiple services.

The network is being used by the University of Sunderland to create a 5G test lab that will support cutting-edge research and teaching; equipping students with important new technology skills.

Newcastle City Council has also launched NCLEUS, a collaborative platform that showcases the latest smart and sustainable developments from its smart city programme. It aims to strengthen the city’s vibrant innovation community and promote Newcastle as a global test bed and investment location for smart city businesses.

Generative Artificial Intelligence

The impact of AI was of course one of the most widely discussed topics at the event. In PWC’s 2024 CEO survey, 70% of respondents expected generative AI to significantly change the way their company creates value in the next few years. This raises the question, what does AI mean for the future of industry?

Microsoft explained how they are applying AI at scale to help industry transform and drive rapid growth, optimise their operations, and modernise. Wider discussions at the event also touched on understanding the strategic business implications of fostering AI, for example, ensuring it cares about its impact on society.

The formation of AI hubs has become an increasingly popular solution within companies, providing the ability to create and validate data, and define specific methodologies to accelerate value generation from AI.

Research and developments in Artificial Intelligence is an area where North East England has excelled. Northumbria University was recently selected as one of 12 new Centres for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence. The UKRI AI Centre for Doctoral Training in Citizen-Centred Artificial Intelligence will train the next generation of AI researchers and innovators. Doctoral students will specialise in areas including AI for robotics, digital healthcare, decision-making and sustainability.

And thanks to multiple high-value grants from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Durham University is now at the forefront of AI in the UK. The funding will allow the University to continue its ground-breaking work in areas like distributed systems, quantum computing, and edge computing.


As banking moves away from the high street and onto our smart phones, the financial sector is encouraging industry partners to collaborate on new technology. As well as regulatory ‘sandboxes’ – a closed testing environment where software innovation can be tested before being rolled out – pilot programmes are becoming increasingly popularity within FinTech; providing controlled testing environments with lighter regulations.

In North East England we have a thriving FinTech ecosystem, which has been bolstered by the arrival of FinPact – the ‘front door’ to the Fintech ecosystem in the North East. The organisation was created on the back of the government’s Kalifa Review of UK FinTech, and supports the development of a thriving and world-class ecosystem that fosters collaboration, skills, and innovation through financial technology.


No tech conference could ignore the major role data continues to play in advancements within technology and industry as a whole. At MWC Barcelona, attention was firmly focused on the continued need for transparency and clarity, as well as an understanding of what data there is, and how we determine whether it is safe and legal.

Newcastle University and the National Innovation Centre for Data at Newcastle Helix are unique assets within our region that are using data to transform our approach and understanding of research. Together they are training the next generation of leaders in data science and exchanging data expertise for the benefit of society, the economy, and their own world-leading research.

Skills and talent

Something that is common across all sectors of industry is the discussion around access to skills and talent, which is often seen as one of the biggest barriers to growth. Huawei discussed its plans for digital talent development, and how it’s been able to support digital inclusion alongside sustainable growth.

Other companies looked at how AI can upskill workforces, revolutionise societal norms, and bridge the skills gap. There was of course consensus amongst all speakers that diversity was crucial to the growth and success of the technology sector, and many sessions provided practical steps for organisations to take.

In North East England there are a number of excellent organisations providing support to tech/digital businesses seeking support with access to talent, including Sunderland Software City and 50:50 Future. There’s still a huge amount to do, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Investment opportunities in North East England

As you can see, North East of England is leading the way when it comes to the development and adoption of new technology in the economy. From world leading R&D and academic expertise at our region’s universities, to an established infrastructure supporting 5G, data, satellite technology and more; we have a number of unique opportunities for telecoms and tech investors here in the North East.

To find out more, please visit our digital and tech webpage or email

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Invest North East England is the first point of contact for companies looking to invest in our region. Our highly experienced team opens the door for investors to North East England’s network of specialist organisations and individuals with the information, support and advice essential to any investment decision. We co-ordinate investment enquiries on behalf of our region’s local authorities to ensure businesses are able to make the best decisions based on a wide array of information.

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