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March 3, 2017

Will a slow and steady approach win the infrastructure race?

Without the internet, businesses, local authorities and Government simply cannot operate or grow.

By James Nunns

Aesop’s fable, The Hare and the Tortoise, is a classic. But the moral of the story doesn’t work when you apply it to the case of network infrastructure.

Lee Wade CEO at Exponential-e.

Lee Wade CEO at Exponential-e.

It’s fair to say that the UK government’s approach has been more ‘tortoise’ in recent years and as such we’ve been left trailing behind other countries.

Last year the Trade Union Congress revealed the UK was ranked second last out of all OECD countries for ICT infrastructure. As one of the richest countries in the world – and a country dubbed by Forbes as the fifth best country for business in 2017 – this is shocking.

The inability to constantly modernise Britain’s network infrastructure is not just a matter of being bottom of European broadband league tables. It’s a major bottleneck to the progress of business and our increasingly digital economy.

The government must do more

Every UK company relies on the internet to operate. It’s how we communicate with co-workers, customers and prospects. It’s how we learn and research. And ultimately, it’s how business sales are driven. Without the internet, businesses, local authorities and Government simply cannot operate or grow.

High-speed connectivity is fundamental to providing the very best internet access for businesses. It is also the bedrock on which new cloud services are built. Such services allow organisations to launch modern, scalable and flexible business solutions.  Such solutions, in turn, enable ideas to grow quickly and create a level playing field for British businesses to compete on the global stage.

Today, the UK’s connectivity is not where it should be. Improvements must be made now in order to make the country more competitive. In an ever evolving and changing world, we need to ensure we can challenge internationally.

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UK PLC is only as good as its network

Britain cemented its position as a world power, thanks to the scores of industrial cities set up across the country in the 18th and 19th centuries. Places like Stoke, Wolverhampton and Sunderland were industry strongholds that exported to all corners of the earth.

Today, however, such cities have been left behind as the economy shifts from a physical to a digital core. While there is a need to constantly improve network standards in London to ensure it continues to prosper, it’s vital that other parts of the country aren’t ignored.

At a time when 78 per cent of UK businesses are based outside the capital, digital investment is needed more than ever. Just as railways and canals were built to transport textiles and coal breathed life into regional areas during the Industrial Revolution, modern network infrastructure can do the same today.

This will ensure that towns from Lands’ End to John O’Groats – which are crying out for economic investment – are given the digital foundations by which to attract it.

After all, businesses are only as good as the digital infrastructure that supports them. It forms the foundations on how they can operate. Once businesses have access to solid infrastructure they are more able to invest in connectivity solutions that support communication and collaboration, regardless of geography.

Without it, they don’t even have a standing start and that is when economic stagnation seeps in.

More government focus is needed

The Prime Minister’s industrial strategy and the fact it will commit £400m (possibly rising to £1.5bn), is a positive step towards modernising the UK’s critical infrastructure.

But announcing such plans is one thing, actually implementing them another. Since the announcement in January, there have been no further details of when or where these upgrades will take place.

They could do more still. Take the massive investment in building High Speed Two (HS2) for example.

Despite the fact the government estimates that an increase in broadband penetration of 10 per cent is directly proven to yield a 0.25% increase in GDP growth – a seemingly win-win situation – they are busy prioritising ploughing £55.7 billion in building HS2.

If just half this £55.7 billion was used for digital infrastructure it could improve UK networks across the country – not just places like London. Just think of the business and economic benefits that would bring? I’m willing to go on record as saying they would be far greater than any produced by HS2.

As the Government negotiates our exit from the EU, Britain needs to become more efficient and productive to compete on a global stage. No other singular investment the Government could make toady could deliver the competitive benefits of a country-wide investment in our communications infrastructure. A simple cost-benefit analysis exercise would demonstrate such an investment would easily outweigh the economic benefits of HS2.

London has benefited from such a digital network infrastructure for many years now. The whole country needs such a network infrastructure to compete successfully post-Brexit. HS2 investment is good. But at this time of greatest need, investment in a modern digital network infrastructure is better.

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