Ultrafast broadband can bring massive economic as well as business benefits to regions and by accelerating activity, the whole UK economy
A recent report commissioned by BT claimed that for every £1 invested in ultrafast fibre broadband in Northern Ireland, there could be a benefit of around £8 to the economy over the next 15 years. While this report by BT DotEcon was specific to the province, it could probably be applied to region of the UK. It could also be transposed to any organisation – and smaller businesses especially.
The benefits that ultrafast broadband can bring to a business have been well documented; and by making businesses more efficient, enabling them to deliver improved levels of customer service, and allowing them to reach further and wider into new markets, and perhaps launch new products as services too.
The arrival of ultrafast speeds will thus give a boost to economic activity and employment – and that will be felt by everyone within the region. The DotEcon study predicted that a proposed investment of £150 million that would extend ultrafast fibre broadband to rural areas would result in an uplift of around £1.2 billion for the Northern Ireland economy over the next decade-and-a-half.
BT’s roll out plan for the region will see almost 7,000 businesses in the region being given access to ultrafast broadband with download speeds of at least 30 Mbps by 2021. Many of these will be small and micro businesses operating in in rural areas that have, up to this point, been denied access to faster broadband speeds.
As such, the investment will accelerate the potential of these businesses very significantly indeed. It will be easier and faster to get things done online. Farmers and agricultural suppliers are no different to businesses based in towns and cities. They are expected to file their tax, VAT and regulatory documents online these days. As they are, by definition, more remote than urban businesses, they also get enhanced benefits from being able to access services and collaborate more easily with other organisations and experts – such as government departments and specialist vets and advisors.
They will also be able to open up better lines of communication with suppliers, which in a competitive market and the uncertainty surrounding the post-Brexit economy, could be vitally important.
More to offer
With faster speeds and much more bandwidth capacity, businesses will be able to offer more services to more customers. They will be able to respond faster and collaborate more easily. It will be easier to deploy hosted services such as VoIP and cloud-based computing and storage. Home working will become more viable, increasing business agility and reducing costs.
There are other economic and social benefits as well. It could bring more investment to the region, which up to now has been one of the most disadvantaged in terms of availability of faster broadband speeds. With more people able to work flexibly and at home, there should be a reduction in carbon emissions, there will be improved digital inclusion and people will have better access to public services.
As the DotEcon report mentions, the advantages can reach far and wide for businesses. It references the example of Cornwall, where superfast broadband access has enabled businesses to offer new services and open online shops or provide wireless connectivity guests and visitors – deemed to be essential by most visitors to bars, cafes and hotels now.
As noted earlier, if all these benefits are likely to be felt in Northern Ireland as a result of investment in ultrafast broadband, they will mostly likely be emulated in any other regions. If investment is also stepped-up in Wales, Scotland, northern England, the west country, East Anglia and all the other more remote and rural areas of the UK, it will have a cumulative and extremely virtuous effect across the whole economy.
As all businesses across all regions become more connected and agile, they will be able to collaborate more and work together to come up with new ideas and services; they will be able to address opportunities faster and respond quickly to changes in the market.
Indeed, there is every reason to believe that the more access businesses and homes have to ultrafast broadband, the more the economy will benefit. Moreover, if investment to bring ultrafast fibre-bases broadband services is not stepped up right across the country, many businesses may be left behind.
Adoption of technologies such as hosted VoIP and cloud-based applications and services is laying the foundation for digital transformation across the entire commercial and public sectors. To access and make use of these services and emerging technologies such as analytics and IoT, fast, reliable, high-bandwidth connectivity is essential.
For businesses in Northern Ireland – and right across the UK – further investment in ultrafast broadband can’t come quickly enough.