Today marks the fourth anniversary of O2 providing its customers with 4G connectivity. In just those four years, the digital landscape in Scotland has evolved beyond all recognition.
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Smartphone ownership has soared, bringing new social media platforms and a host of disruptive apps and services. The way we communicate has fundamentally changed. You only need to look around you to see the transformative effect smartphones have had in shaping the way we communicate, work and play. Recent Ofcom figures revealed that almost four in every five UK adults now own a smartphone and nearly three-quarters use smartphones to access the internet on the go.
With the rise in smartphone use and ownership, the demand for ubiquitous, fast mobile connectivity is unquestionable. Across Britain there are more than 52 million 4G contracts and there is a growing appreciation that connectivity is essential not just to consumers and businesses but to the future success of our economy. There’s evidence to support that a more connected society is a more productive one.
However, we risk falling behind as a nation that can compete on the global stage if we don’t take the necessary steps now to becoming a leading digital economy. It’s why we invest over £2 million every day towards growing and maintaining our network infrastructure across the UK. At O2, we know a good network experience matters most to our customers. We constantly listen to them and have been working tirelessly to provide whole range of connectivity needs, from bringing data to remote communities for the first time, to providing faster downloads whether indoors or out in busy cities.
Our planned installation of a new 50-metre mast near Inverness is just one example of how we are working tirelessly to improve mobile connectivity for customers across Scotland. Working collaboratively with the local authority, we aim to double the size of the mast serving the area which will significantly improve the range and performance of 4G connectivity in the area.
The Scottish Government has shown commitment to working collaboratively with the mobile industry. Its Mobile Action Plan, launched by Scotland’s connectivity secretary Fergus Ewing last year, sets out a series of measures designed to improve the case for investment in mobile infrastructure across Scotland.
The legislative reform brings Scotland’s mobile infrastructure planning regulations more in line with England. It will make the deployment and speed of delivering mobile infrastructure to improve 4G coverage significantly better. Operators like O2 can accelerate their mobile connectivity roll out plans across the country, boosting network performance and connecting more rural communities and customers. We know the difference this can make.
Until recently, residents in one of Wales’s most remote villages, Staylittle, were forced to stay indoors to make and receive phone calls and had to resort to expensive, patchy satellite home internet to get online. In June, O2 installed a permanent 4G mobile mast, which provides full 3G and 4G coverage to the entire village, enabling villagers to make calls, connect online with their family and friends and access social media – things many of us take for granted.
Mobile is a key driver of the UK economy and the changes to planning laws and business rates relief will help accelerate the delivery of improved 4G connectivity across the country, but more needs to be done. The UK needs a competitive telecoms market with a regulatory framework that allows operators to compete, innovate and invest if the nation is to realise its ambition of becoming a world-leading digital economy
In particular, the country desperately needs more mobile airwaves so we can continue delivering for consumers and businesses. And the UK government needs to put mobile connectivity at the heart of its Industrial Strategy to promote competition and further the interests of consumers.
It currently prioritises fixed-line connections, missing the opportunity to capitalise on the benefits mobile can bring. Our own research found that an effective rollout of 5G connectivity could add more than £7 billion per annum to the UK economy by 2026, outstripping the contribution made by that of fixed-line internet.
The future payoff is clear if we look at the bigger picture and how business and consumers could better benefit from new technologies enabled by mobile connectivity – whether that’s connected cars, smart cities or the “internet of things”. Building digital connectivity into our economic future now will ensure that Scotland becomes one of the best-connected countries in the world.