How to unlock mobile connectivity’s full potential and build Britain’s digital future

How to unlock the full potential of mobile connectivity and build the UK's digital future

Credit: Accelerate UK

Parliamentarians have an excellent opportunity to achieve the goal of economic growth.

Across the UK, communities and businesses are increasingly relying on digital connectivity as a daily necessity. Given the obvious importance, the mobile industry and government have invested heavily to roll out 4G networks to 95% of the UK. The industry is now rapidly adopting 5G, with the new technology already being accessible to more than half of the population from two operators.

During the pandemic, connectivity has helped Britain stay connected and safe, enabled many to work from home and helped keep the economy thriving. The pandemic has accelerated the digital economy, but it has also prompted rapid change in the way we use digital services to improve our personal lives. We can access online GP consultations and training, do our weekly grocery shopping, and stay connected with friends and family.

The potential for digital connectivity to boost productivity and make UK businesses more competitive around the world is huge. Research from the Center for Policy Studies found that if 5G coverage reaches a quarter more of the population than the government’s target of 51%, GDP will increase by £41.7 billion by 2027. But to accelerate the improvements needed to unlock the full potential of nationwide connectivity requires a change in how we deliver our critical infrastructure across the UK.

In 2017, the Electronic Communications Code (the Code), which governs the relationship between communications providers and location providers, was updated to make mobile infrastructure installation more efficient as part of the government’s commitment to improving connectivity.

With the introduction of the revised code, the rental value for the use of sites to host infrastructure will now be much more aligned with that of utilities, allowing essential connectivity to be provided more cost-effectively across the UK. Many landlords are accepting, acknowledging and positive about these new leases. This has helped meet connectivity demands, keep consumer prices affordable and allow local communities to reap greater social and economic benefits through digital connectivity.

Improved connectivity should be an integral part of the government’s drive to drive productivity and economic growth. Research from Cluttons and YouGov found that 82% of MPs agreed future digital connectivity should be part of local development plans, and 70% of consumers supported installing more infrastructure locally to reap the benefits of a connected country.

The industry has worked with landlords and other stakeholders to welcome the code with some progress since it was reformed. However, further changes are needed as loopholes in legislation affect the deployment of mobile infrastructure.

“Connectivity is a key driver of growth for the UK, but we risk falling behind and missing out on the many benefits that improved mobile connectivity can unlock. In September the new government put infrastructure back on the agenda for the UK but the roll-out of vital mobile telecoms is being slowed by unnecessary tenancy and access disputes but there is a solution.” commented Lord Ed Vaizey. The former Minister for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries added: “The Product Safety and Telecoms Infrastructure Act will close loopholes and encourage fairer, faster and more collaborative negotiations that will enable the UK to get the connectivity we all deserve.”

The Product Safety and Telecommunications Infrastructure Act currently going through Parliament is needed to close the loopholes and encourage fairer, faster and more collaborative negotiations between industry and landlords. Failure to do so will affect our communities’ access to mobile connectivity and put the UK’s digital economy at risk.

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