The UK recently surpassed FTTP penetration levels of 7%, a positive step on the road to ‘gigabit Britain’ but still a long way behind its European neighbours. As technology has advanced the amount of data we consume has skyrocketed. From surfing the internet to self-driving cars, we are living in a digital world where effective and reliable connectivity is everything.
The importance of reliable connectivity is obvious against the backdrop of a digital UK, but there are a host of benefits that are often overlooked. Upgrading networks, both public and private, can be an expensive process. The price to pay for enhanced connectivity is often met with resistance, especially from local authorities concerned about their bottom-line.
The true value of enhanced connectivity expands far beyond greater download speeds and reliable connectivity. Investing in network upgrades and fibre shouldn’t just be looked at in terms of ROI. As the UK is transforming into a digital economy, taking the leap to full fibre will be the driving force behind positive social and economic development. So where should local councils start on their journey towards enhanced connectivity?
Uncovering the true value
If you were to ask a council what better connectivity means to them, answers will likely concern faster broadband speeds. There’s no doubt that these are an important factor in justifying the need for better connectivity, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg. For many organisations, better connectivity can make all the difference in how they deliver digital services to their customers, but also in how they address growing social issues such as loneliness and digital isolation, particularly amongst the elderly communities and in hard to reach areas. Enhanced connectivity can also serve to address regional economic problems by creating more employment or by giving citizens better access to professional and educational resources.
Thinking about the impact connectivity could have on the local community is a huge part of choosing the right connectivity provider. During the procurement process, local authorities must think a little outside the box beyond the immediate benefits of greater speeds and more bandwidth, to think about the digital and socioeconomic benefits that could be brought about as a result of better connectivity. Councils need to think carefully about the needs of their community – is rural isolation a big problem, for example, or perhaps it’s a lack of digital services available to local citizens.
In addition to this, they should seek inspiration from others across the country – are there other cities or regions that are making big steps in upgrading connectivity to better serve their citizens? Which other local authorities have undertaken Wide Area Network (WAN) upgrades successfully? These questions will not only be important in choosing the right service provider, but it’ll also help councils to better understand their needs and requirements.
How can connectivity help?
Through better speeds and greater bandwidth, there are several benefits that can be brought about by WAN upgrades and replacements.
First, in education. Many schools today suffer from poor bandwidth and network speeds, meaning that some interactive services and educational technologies are unavailable for many students. Remote learning for example, is made particularly difficult – if not impossible – for some schools suffering from poor network connectivity. This can significantly put students in underserved areas at a disadvantage, thus impacting their progression both in the school system, and in their every-day lives. By engaging with the right connectivity providers, public sector organisations can see schools benefit hugely with access to new services, as well as through the creation of initiatives such as STEM projects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) to encourage local students to discover new subjects and sectors that could help to shape their futures.
Second, in employment services. Enhanced connectivity can enable the creation of digital academies, arming local citizens with the right tools to be able to thrive in the future digital economy. These digital academies can provide classes or training on new technologies, such as coding or analytics, thus helping to re-skill or up-skill local employees, or even providing kick-start courses for citizens less familiar with technology and digital services. In addition to this, WAN upgrade and replacement projects directly create new job opportunities for local citizens, giving them the chance to retrain and learn new skills throughout the duration of the project.
Third, in overall productivity. Slow connections can prove to be a significant hinderance to both public and private organisations. Services such as file sharing, document uploads and downloads or access to online portals are a critical part of how public sector organisations work. By improving connection speeds, councils will be able to better utilize their time and resources to become more productive. What’s more, enhanced bandwidth can also help to digitize services that may have otherwise been done manually – for example, by creating online portals for waste collection, or perhaps for parking permits. These digitized services will not only increase productivity, they will also help local citizens feel more engaged with their local community, and reduce cost spent on delivering citizen services.
Reap what you sow
There’s no doubt that enhancing connectivity is a costly and complex process – councils need to think about choosing the right provider, evaluate what their needs and requirements are, and ensure they’re delivering the right level of service for their citizens. But while the upfront cost may be daunting, the benefits from this investment will be unparalleled. Connectivity is and will continue to be the backbone of the UK’s future digital economy, but only if the right investment is made in updating the country’s networks. Organisations simply can’t afford to wait, the time is now for enhanced connectivity.
Paul Doe is regional director at MLL Telecom