Access to superfast broadband and speedy 4G services – we all have that as standard, right? Well, actually no. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case across the UK.
While those in larger metropolitan cities such as London, Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester might be lucky enough to have consistent, high quality connectivity, it is not an equal playing field for those in rural areas like North Wales, the Midlands and many areas across Scotland.
The role broadband plays as an enabler cannot be underestimated. For small businesses, reliable broadband provides the opportunity to reach a global audience – and could even be the difference between success and failure. For the elderly or hard-to-reach individuals, reliable connectivity access can prevent issues such as social isolation and loneliness.
With broadband and - increasingly - 4G mobile services becoming ever-present in many people’s everyday lives, it is critical that everyone across the country has the same access to the opportunities it enables.
Moving on from the BT / Openreach debate
The communications regulator Ofcom recently announced that BT will not have to sell off its broadband division Openreach - with the watchdog instead ordering more independence and investment powers for the division.
Whilst it may be easy to criticise BT from the side-lines, alongside Virgin it is one of only two companies who are putting their money where their mouth is, and investing in broadband infrastructure across the UK – which means a lot to consumers, businesses and the wider economy. Therefore, as the dust begins to settle on this long-awaited decision, we as an industry must take stock, embrace it and move forwards.
Addressing the connectivity challenge
Indeed, it is not just BT that has been targeted regarding quality levels. Further criticisms have been made regarding the quality of the UK’s fibre broadband network as a whole following a recent high profile EU report which benchmarks each country’s Digital Single Market performance - addressing factors such as access to connectivity, internet usage, digital technology integration and digital public services. The index ranks the UK in sixth place in terms of its performance, behind the likes of Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands.
One way the industry could seek to address this challenge is through Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology, widely considered the fastest and most reliable way to access the Internet. FTTH has the potential to open the door to a wide range of services and applications, both for entertainment and productivity, delivered right to the home or office.
Earlier this year, Ofcom pledged to ease the process for rival operators to connect their own fibre optic cables directly to homes and businesses – by encouraging investment in their own competing infrastructure and improving access to Openreach’s network of telegraph poles and its ‘ducts’, the underground tunnels that carry telecoms cables.These changes, of course, won’t come into force overnight, but will support operators as they seek to roll out their own ultrafast fibre networks to their customers.
While access to fibre will play a critical role in supporting the growth and development of small businesses, as well as connecting families and friends across the globe, we must not ignore the key role mobile coverage plays as well.
Whether inside a large building, a crowded area or even a rural region, operators must also consider the importance of access to speedy and reliable mobile phone coverage. Wi-Fi isn’t always available, and sometimes provides inconsistent and even unsecure access to networks, so therefore 4G must be available for consumers and businesses alike. High speed fibre broadband and cellular connectivity supports economic growth and an improved quality of life for everyone. And this should be available across all parts of the country – no matter how rural or hard-to-reach.
With subscribers clamouring for more and more bandwidth and a higher quality of service, network operators must continue to look for faster ways to deploy high speed mobile and broadband networks – and fibre should play a key role as part of these pledges.
Phil Sorsky, VP of International, CommScope
Image source: Shutterstock/Ekaphon maneechot