Party manifestos pointed towards a digital revolution, but is the UK ready?

Technology and investment in the UK’s digital future has been at the forefront of each of the three main parties' manifestos this time around. While each party disagreed (slightly) with the other two on where the money should be spent, all agree that two of the main priorities concern broadband coverage and cyber security.

All three main parties responded to an obvious need for network connectivity throughout the country. Today, businesses in nearly every industry rely on networked services. To support these businesses and to support innovations and new efficiencies in areas as diverse as education, healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing, the UK must have reliable, high-speed network infrastructure.

A new, state-of-the-art, video-rich solution in healthcare or education, for example, will run aground when it reaches a rural community where broadband bandwidth pokes along at less than 10 Mbps.

While broadband coverage of 10 Mbps or higher in much of the UK already surpasses that of the EU overall (about 83 per cent vs 68 per cent),the Conservative manifesto calls for coverage running at 24 Mbps or higher to reach 95 per cent of urban and rural areas by 2017. By that same year, the manifesto expects mobile providers to be delivering voice and text services to 90 per cent of the UK landmass. Other goals in the area of coverage include making free Wi-Fi available in all trains, and the UK investing to become a leading developer of 5G technology.

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But simply extending broadband coverage itself may not be sufficient, if mobile coverage is not improved as well. An increasingly mobile workforce with an ‘always-on’ mentality must have access to any device, anywhere. Almost half of all email is read first on mobile devices, and news sites are more frequently read on smartphones and tablets than on desktops. Faster processors, higher screen resolutions, and advances in mobile app designs have helped make this change possible. How many of you are reading this on a mobile device right now?

The popularity of mobile computing has implications for both public and private investments in IT. In the public sector, broadband coverage should include mobile broadband, not just DSL and other land-based connections. In the private sector, enterprises must be ready to support a growing community of end user devices, often selected and configured by users themselves as part of the so-called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) revolution.

Mobile apps and their corresponding cloud services are likely to go through a major transformation in the next few years. A new generation of true "mobile-first" applications will more fully take advantage of the many capabilities of mobile devices - including GPS, cameras, and even accelerometers - to re-engineer workflows and tasks for brief interactions or “mobile moments.” Of course, these new apps and services will require fast, reliable networks. It would be a shame if public infrastructure were not in place to support these new apps and the improvements in efficiency and productivity they could make possible.

All three manifestos called, in differing ways, for assuring that government security teams have access to the data they need, while also addressing the rights of the public for data privacy. Mobile computing broadens the range of data available for both security analysis and data privacy. GPS data, for example, can be invaluable for tracking and disarming security threats. It can also lead to an erosion of privacy. Policies will need to evolve to address both issues in the coming years.

In its own way, the private sector is already wrestling with many of these same challenges. How should leaders ensure that their communities have access to the network infrastructure that supports the delivery and optimisation of critical services? How should users and data be kept safe without security measures jeopardising individual rights to privacy?

Whatever the answers, for the public sector or the private, chances are we'll all be reading about them on our mobile devices.

Keith Poyser is GM EMEA at Accellion.