Celebrating a Century of Connectivity


by Lutz Schüler, CEO of Virgin Media O2

What will the world look like in 100 years’ time? Experts suggest connected flying autonomous vehicles could be here within a decade or so; unlimited green energy in 20 to 30 years; and many of us will implant technology into our bodies to make our brains work faster.

While none of us knows precisely what the future holds, when we look back, it’s clear that the telecoms sector has supported and enabled almost every major technological shift of the past century.

This month, our shareholder, Telefonica, marks a monumental milestone as it celebrates 100 years in business. I doubt its founders saw themselves as transformational pioneers helping build today’s fully connected world. Yet today, their legacy is clear – especially in the UK where the company has invested billions of pounds and created thousands of jobs since acquiring O2 in 2005. A century of innovation and progress means that wherever you are on the planet, it’s possible to see and speak with someone else in real time, at very little cost. These pioneers, and those that have followed, helped to shrink the world and bring us all closer together.

From its origins acquiring the small regional startup telephone ‘concessionaries’ that lacked the scale needed to deliver a national network, to becoming a global business spanning more than 20 countries, Telefonica has long been shaping the world in which we live. With telecoms underpinning so much of modern life, it’s almost impossible to imagine a world without mobile and broadband services.

While the sector has changed immeasurably from the early days of bringing together local telephone networks, the constant change and growing demand for telecoms services is as true today as it was 100 years ago. Over the past decade, we’ve seen an explosion in data usage, as consumers spend more of their lives online and businesses engage fully in the digital economy. In the UK, average monthly mobile data use has trebled in the last five years and today we’re a world leader in terms of fixed data consumption per capita, with monthly usage leaping almost three-fold.

This is only possible thanks to a continuous stream of investment to upgrade and deliver new services. In the UK alone, the industry is investing over £5bn a year in mobile and fixed networks. This investment has delivered fantastic outcomes for consumers, with average fixed broadband download speeds increasing 72% since 2017, while the price per Mbps has fallen 39% over the same period. On the mobile side, our 5G network now reaches over half of the UK population and we recently switched on our latest 5G Standalone network in cities across the UK.

Yet, the journey is far from over. As we and our shareholders look to the future, we are committed to pushing the boundaries of innovation further still. Exciting developments such as hyper-connectivity, artificial intelligence and the metaverse will be underpinned by the strong communications networks which we’ve pledged £10 billion to upgrade.

In today’s digital world, it is vital that everybody can benefit from mobile and broadband services. It’s why we’re ensuring our services are available to all – whether through offering cut-price social tariffs; providing free mobile data to those in need through the National Databank; giving free devices to the digitally disconnected through our Community Calling programme; or simply expanding our network to bring reliable connectivity to some of the most rural and remote locations in the country including through the Shared Rural Network programme.

This vital work is helping to close the digital divide and ensure that everybody can access great services, no matter where they are or whatever their situation.

Running in parallel is our commitment to building a network that’s better for the planet. Through our Better Connections Plan, we’re working to reducing carbon emissions by achieve net zero by 2040, and also achieving zero waste operations and products by 2025 by enabling consumers to make 10 million circular actions.

While much has changed over the last century, at our core we still exist to bring people together. And with a commitment to continue investing, innovating and transforming, whatever the future holds, we’re working to create a better world for people and planet for the next 100 years and beyond.

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