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What is the key to a connected Britain?

Written by: Hayley Paterson

There has been a lot of discussion concerning the Government’s proposal to transform Britain and ensure it becomes a gigabit-capable nation by 2025. And, as recent times have clearly underlined, connectivity will play a pivotal role in how businesses, communities, homes, and families keep in touch.

With the spotlight firmly shining on the ‘future of work’ and what that looks like for many organisations, leaders have spent 18 months adapting and adopting new ways of operating to provide solutions for their teams to communicate effectively, not feel so isolated and still be productive.

Fast-forward to the present day and questions remain around how employees can not only return safely to headquarters, but if those offices will look the same – or be downsized – and what part hybrid working will play going forward. Matt Harrison, our chief strategy and innovation officer, delved into the detail for Top Business Technology magazine…

Committing to higher broadband speeds – and delivering effective roll outs throughout towns, villages, and cities – is a major step in terms of what it means to be a ‘connected Britain’, but there’s still a long way to go.

Looking at the recent ‘FTTH Council Europe, IDATE 2020’ analysis, the reading is stark – the UK is listed as being one of the slowest countries in Europe in terms of global broadband speed rankings, and was 47th in the world last year.

However, the Government has set itself ambitious targets to transform this level of connectivity – earmarking around 27.5 million homes for a full-fibre roll out by 2025, which is a staggering increase from the currently six million premises that are fully equipped with high-speed broadband.

So, although Britain is currently quite a way behind the front-runners – with ambitious targets to achieve in four years’ time – the positive news is that the Government has at least recognised this.

As a result, centralised and regional funding plans are in place, coupled with huge amounts of private equity funding as well as the much-needed regulation reviews. Put it altogether and this is designed to encourage alt-nets to expedite the necessary fibre infrastructure required to feed the growing hunger of bandwidth and connectivity demands from homes and businesses, by the end of the decade.

And that means both the telecoms and technology industries will have a huge part to play in tackling the digital divide.

Will the UK ever be hyper-connected?

The connectivity challenge is nothing new because social interaction has always been a part of human nature. For centuries, innovators have come to the fore to roll out solutions that help people keep in touch – from the first ever telephone call in 1876, Morse Code 30 years earlier, and so on.

Each invention has led to the present day and a time in which people now expect to be able to communicate with one another from all over the world, as well as interact via remote devices and have tools that talk to one another in real-time (or thereabouts). That means there is a constant requirement to increase connectivity, coverage, and bandwidth – regardless of location.

It’s an exciting time to be part of the telecoms sector when it has such a pivotal role to play in uniting people. The UK overall, is pushing the envelope for what can be achieved – and not just in the home environment but from a business perspective too.

Residents can now view deliveries to their home as they arrive in the post, turn their lights on when they’re not around, and remotely programme their ovens to prepare evening meals. Meanwhile, call centre workers are utilising real-time data to deploy emergency services vehicles and farmers have been adopting ‘agritech’ to plough, sow, feed, and monitor the health of crops autonomously, all without human intervention.

And a quick Google search will soon show how, as little as two years ago, a surgeon in China was able to perform the world’s first remote operation – using 5G technology. 

There is a long way to go to achieving hyper-connectivity in the UK. Firstly, it’s about concentrating on the deployment of deep fibre and 5G if the nation is to make meaningful strides. But the good thing is, the technology is available and it’s constantly diversifying. Additionally, history explains that evolution is expected… the question is, is everyone ready to be ‘always connected’ and ‘always accessible’ to everyone and everything?

The importance of innovation

It’s clear that the possibilities of what it means to be truly connected are endless – and, of course, heavily reliant on advancing technology, alongside providing affordable, accessible, and usable applications, as well as robust infrastructure and the necessary bandwidth to cope with demand.

Whilst currently lagging behind in the underpinning infrastructure stakes, the positive thought is that Britain has always been at the cutting-edge in terms of its own innovation. The next step is to underline exactly how these creations can enrich people’s lives. For example, even now, HR teams are still managing workloads via manually-intensive spreadsheets instead of utilising a wealth of digital tools, marketers are delivering emails without automated processes, and people are operating mobile devices for text and calls only. Why?

Cost is an obvious reason, but perhaps trust plays a part too. This is often key as to why the UK isn’t quite there yet when it comes to adopting electric cars, integrating 5G or allowing a medical operation to take place when the surgeon isn’t even in the room.

That’s where the telecoms industry, Government, business leaders and the wider population have a huge role to play in the future of building a gigabit-capable and truly connected Britain.

Once the supporting physical fibre and wireless networks are in place within the next few years, the challenge ahead is what will people do once the infrastructure is here? Innovators and disruptors will continue to push the playing field as to what can be done when developing solutions that make things even better – and this will continue at pace.

Overall, it will be a test for the UK, but it certainly provides an exciting opportunity for innovation to come to the fore and drive the nation up the global rankings for high-speed connectivity.

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