This article first appeared in Property Week
As many UK workers currently sit at home and try to virtually recreate their work environment, politicians and businesses need to ask how we remain a world-leading country and economy after Brexit and the impact of Covid-19.
Digital infrastructure needs to be at the heart of this debate as wired and wireless technologies, products and services will underpin the future of the economy, and it’s crucial the UK is prepared for it.
The internet has driven much of our personal and professional lives, and will increasingly continue to do so in the current climate, with a huge majority of the country working from home. Never before have we been so reliant on an effective digital infrastructure to allow us to video-call, chat and download files from our work servers. This brings into sharp focus the importance of good connectivity as businesses rely on this to remain operational.
It’s unsurprising that connectivity came to the fore of Boris Johnson’s legislative agenda with his policy to bring full-fibre broadband to every home in the UK by 2025 and £5bn worth of investment to help reach its 2025 target announced in the Budget this month.
According to a recent survey of 1,000 SMEs, the average worker could waste up to 72 minutes daily because of unreliable internet connections and tech issues. Implementing the digital infrastructure to deliver full-fibre broadband will help increase productivity and retain the UK’s position as a world-leading digital economy. But will the government’s new digital infrastructure programme achieve its ambitions, and what will it mean for the property industry?
Achieving the 2025 full-fibre target will be a big step forward for the UK on its road to a tech-driven economy. Becoming a world leader requires more than full-fibre alone as 5G networks for the next generation of mobile connectivity will also need to be prepared for.
What’s more, the current policy programme is focused on improving access for rural consumers who suffer from poor connectivity. But it’s not only rural areas that need support; many urban areas also suffer from poor connectivity – Southwark Council was required to put in place a Digital Infrastructure Strategy in order to tackle broadband speeds as low as 0.26Mbps in Rotherhithe.
Most employees are simply unable to work at all without the internet. Connectivity in rural areas needs addressing and improving, but this should not be at the expense of urban, high-density environments.
So how can the property industry stay ahead of the curve on connectivity? Landlords will need to design their digital infrastructure to ensure that not only today’s but tomorrow’s needs are met. A collaborative approach from all stakeholders – mobile operators, internet service providers and government – is necessary to meet the 2025 target.
The 2018 Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review laid out a powerful masterplan for the core telecoms infrastructure we need to connect Britain. It should be fully implemented, including the core fibre infrastructure to enable mobile and broadband internet nationally. When the future of high-speed connectivity is so critical to our economic future, we must make sure our digital infrastructure is fit for purpose.