Sunday, 01 November 2020

From coping to thriving: Building digitally connected infrastructure in the UK

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Friday 25 September 20

Rolling out connectivity effectively for all will require a commitment from all stakeholders, said the panel at Connected Britain

For the builders of the UK’s connectivity infrastructure, 2020 has been an unpredictable year. Pegged to be the year of 5G’s grand UK launch, operators around the country hurried to launch the new mobile technology, with infrastructure providers accelerating their rollouts in support. However, as we have seen in every aspect of our lives this year, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. In the face of the huge demand presented by a national population working from home, the nation&rsquo…

For the builders of the UK’s connectivity infrastructure, 2020 has been an unpredictable year. Pegged to be the year of 5G’s grand UK launch, operators around the country hurried to launch the new mobile technology, with infrastructure providers accelerating their rollouts in support.

However, as we have seen in every aspect of our lives this year, the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything.

In the face of the huge demand presented by a national population working from home, the nation’s networks proved themselves resilient and adaptable, performing well under the pressure of the pandemic. But there is still so much more left to do, said the panellists in a session at today’s Connected Britain event.

“The networks coped and there was a huge sigh of relief, not least from people within the industry. But that wasn’t an accident – an awful lot of hard work went on behind the scene when we first went into lockdown to make sure a catastrophe didn’t happen,” said Vicky Read, Head of Policy And Public Affairs at CityFibre. “But just coping isn’t where we want to be. We want to be thriving.”

Improving national connectivity is as vital now as it has ever been. The government itself has major goals for fibre connectivity by 2025 but Read was quick to note that this issue is not as simple as simply delivering faster broadband.

“It’s not about pure speed. It is about reliability – knowing it will work when we need it. I think we need to keep pushing on for that reason,” she said.

“[Despite progression] the delivery challenge has been huge and is still there,” added Matthew Vickerstaff, Chief Executive of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority for HM Treasury and Cabinet Office. 

 

 

Commenting on the validity of the targets themselves, Read said “I think it remains the right target”, noting that “while the service is not close to breaking down, we cannot afford to be complacent” when it comes to upgrading to full fibre.

One interesting caveat here is the shifting mindset surrounding the role of connectivity. With the pandemic itself proving the incredible importance of staying online, we are beginning to see a slow transition in attitudes towards connectivity infrastructure, viewing it more as a utility in line with gas, water, or electricity.

“Energy and comms are now becoming one infrastructure, i.e., they are conflated in their interdependency,” said Laura Sandys, CEO at Challenging Ideas. “Connectivity has rapidly become an essential service. That means we have to look at infrastructure in a different way. It’s not just about the high-speed connectivity, but the resources people have to utilise it. There’s no point in having connectivity if you can’t actually use it.”

“We are still living in infrastructure silos,” she said. “I would like to see much greater conflation of infrastructure assets.” 

In stark contrast to working with utility companies on a national level, building out the UK’s connectivity infrastructure is in fact a very local process, with close collaboration needed with local governments and stakeholders throughout the journey. If we are to truly connect the nation, stakeholders on all levels must be in constant dialogue.

“Levelling up on a national level is actually a very local process,” said Read. “Getting regulatory frameworks right on a local and national level is a fine balance.”

 

Connected Britain is happening right now! Follow #ConnectedBritain to keep up with the action

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