Picking up the pace

Ultrafast internet speeds are going to be essential for British businesses to compete on the world stage – and the rest of the UK can perhaps learn something from one of its dependencies

 

A recent report on the BBC technology website highlighted how businesses and the community in Jersey are benefiting from ultrafast Internet connections, which are now available right across the largest of the Channel Islands.

The article underlines the very real advantages that ultrafast broadband connectivity brings. Indeed, the success of Jersey in making fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) an option to everyone go some way to accelerating plans to make it available right across the UK

This would be very welcome, especially as we enter the period of uncertainty surrounding Britain’s exit from the EU. Whatever happens in March 2019, what we can be sure of is that UK businesses will need to be as capable of competing effectively on the world stage, and to operate as slick and efficient a business operation as they possibly can.

Faster, cheaper, simpler

The article on Jersey provides a very good illustration of just how much of a difference ultrafast internet connectivity can make to everyone. The story cites the example of a dairy farmer who has used the faster connection to make use of advanced monitoring services on her herd of 200 cows. This allows the farmer to pinpoint any problems in seconds and makes milking more efficient.

The Beaulieu Catholic School for girls, meanwhile has been able to make teaching materials easily accessible and available to students both in the classroom and at home. The school’s assistant head is quoted as saying that everything is “faster, simpler and cheaper”.

With an FTTP connection, downloads speeds of up to 300Mbps can be provided, which is 14 times faster than the UK’s average standard broadband speed at peak times (according to BT). That would mean you could download an HD movie in under six minutes (even at busy times) instead of close to an hour, which is the time it would take on a standard broadband connection at present.

Business boost

For businesses, there would be a similar boost in time-saved and productivity. The responsiveness of cloud-based apps and services and the download speeds for large files and video streams would be massively reduced. It would make it much easier to adopt bandwidth-intensive solutions, such as interactive collaboration platforms and hosted VoIP, and to apply really good security and encryption to all data traffic. Importantly, all these services could be used simultaneously and by multiple users.

Being able to do all of this will be more important as other nations make ultrafast internet more widely available – and as the Jersey example shows, it is perfectly possible for FTTP to be provided in relatively small regions.

While the cost to provide ultrafast fibre connections that runs all the way to the door is cheaper in Jersey than it would be on the UK mainland, it shows that it can be done. It is happening – but perhaps not as fast as many businesses would like. At the moment, just over 630,000 premises have access to FTTP in the UK and under plans currently in place, Openreach will extend this to three million premises by the end of 2020 and 10 million by 2025, with major urban areas such as London, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh getting them first.

Getting competitive

But will this be soon enough, and will it go far enough? While 40 major cities and towns may be covered by 2025, as things stands, it’s unlikely that all farmers and other businesses in smaller towns and rural areas will be getting access to an ultra-fast internet connection until well after that date,

Jersey decided to invest the £50 million it has taken to give the island full fibre coverage back in 2011, and other countries, such as Spain and Portugal have followed suit. The BBC article reports that UK officials are now looking at what’s been achieved in Jersey and hints that they may be considering how the activity can be emulated in the rest of the UK.

Doing that will undoubtedly take massive investment and commitment. But if UK-based businesses want to be able to complete – and indeed, if Britain wants to compete for outward investment, it will need am ultrafast internet infrastructure. If it can be done in Jersey in just five years, perhaps – with a little foresight, vision and determination – ultrafast can find its way to every corner of the UK on the same kind of timescale.

If it can, that will certainly be a boost to businesses in the UK who are looking to provide the slicker, smartest services to a market in which businesses and consumers are much more technologically-aware and driven.

 

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