October 16, 2020

Guest Blog: Is the UK ready to ride the next wave of digital connectivity?

GigaTag, Mobile, Innovation, 5G, Connectivity, BuildingMobileBritain

Author: Susannah Odell, Senior Policy Adviser - Digital & Innovation at @cbitweets

The Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman MP, recently announced that the CBI, FSB and consumer group Which? will be forming a taskforce – the Gigabit Take-Up Advisory Group -to help boost business and consumer take up of gigabit-capable connectivity. But why is this needed and how can businesses get involved?

Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, we’ve relied on fast, reliable mobile and broadband connections - from our daily Microsoft Teams calls to streaming Tiger King on Netflix or staying in touch with friends and family. Digital connectivity has also been a lifeline for businesses, helping them to keep trading, connect with customers, and adopt remote working technologies.

Going forward, continued investment in digital infrastructure will drive the UK’s economic recovery –providing new job opportunities, regional economic growth, and unlocking technology adoption. CBI strongly supports the government’s ambition for all homes and businesses to have access to the next generation of digital connections by 2025. The new jargon to learn is “gigabit technology” which is everything from fixed wireless access (FWA) using 5G to full fibre. This array of technologies will enable more flexibility, more reliability and more speed for consumers and firms - but also requires serious investment.

The telecoms industry is stepping up to the plate and has already committed billions to deploying these new networks. This year, the industry collaborated with government on a £1 billion Shared Rural Network plan to tackle mobile not-spots across the UK. And in 2019 alone, private investment helped 1.5 million more homes get access to a full fibre connection.

As the UK enters this newera of connectivity, it’s important that businesses and consumers are primed to take advantage of the benefits that these new technologies can bring, and help the UK build back better from Covid-19.

What’s the challenge?

Embedding technologies successfully requires both investment and adoption.

But crucially we know from the rollout of the last wave of broadband technology – superfast – that availability doesn’t automatically equal widespread adoption. This presents two big challenges:

Firstly, low take-up has an impact on the investment case itself. Investing in gigabit networks is a long and risky undertaking because it’s necessary to build these networks ahead of demand. Early interest is key - strong uptake in those first cities, towns and villages can significantly improve the ongoing business case, lowering the risk and speeding up rollout elsewhere.

This leads us to the second challenge: how to address the barriers that stop businesses and consumers taking up gigabit technologies when they are available. Many of these are well-known challenges that stop businesses from adopting other technologies like CRM systems or cloud. These range from low awareness of the benefits or ROI to lack of senior buy-in and cost. We need to address these barriers head-on, so that as the new networks become available, firms and people are ready to benefit.

Why do we need a taskforce?

It’s important to prepare early, to clearly identify the barriers so that government, the telecoms industry and others can put the right support in place for the UK to quickly adopt these technologies as they come online.

We also know that Covid-19 may have changed business and consumer views about connectivity. So now is the time for an evidence-based and strategic new approach to create a package of support that actually drives demand.

It’s going to take a village to get the right answers and best draw on past lessons – which is why the CBI called for a connectivity taskforce in our recent report on how to deliver a technology and innovation-led economic recovery.

Since then, the CBI, Which? and FSB have come together in close partnership with DCMS to create the Gigabit Take-Up Advisory Group (GigaTAG). We need a range of perspectives - from rural businesses to those representing vulnerable groups - to drill down into what the issues are, and quickly come up with recommendations.

The Covid-19 crisis has shown just how much can be achieved through collaboration and clear goals. It’s time to use this same approach to ensure the UK harnesses the benefits of this once-in-a-generation renewal of the UK’s digital foundations to build back better.

Next steps

GigaTAG has launched a call for evidence and we want to hear frombusinesses on the barriers that stop firms from adopting gigabit connectivityand what support would help spur take-up.

Susannah Odell, CBI

About Building Mobile Britain

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Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.

See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain

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