Journey to a more connected North: UK connectivity roundup January 2024


A selection of the most important connectivity stories relating to the North of the UK, with expert guest commentary provided by Iqbal Bedi, Founder & Consulting Director at Intelligens Consulting

Manchester named the UK’s most digitally inclusive city: A study from Bionic found Manchester to have more digital inclusive initiatives per person than any other city in the UK.

“Manchester’s recognition as the UK’s most digitally inclusive city is a notable achievement, particularly in addressing the needs of vulnerable community members. However, digital inclusion goes beyond mere connectivity; it encompasses equipping individuals with the necessary digital skills and awareness of available resources.

In recent work by Intelligens Consulting, we’ve encountered individuals with adequate financial resources yet lacking essential digital skills. This gap prevents them from efficiently utilizing technology for everyday tasks, highlighting that digital inclusion challenges span across various societal segments.

For instance, a person we interacted with, who had recently become unemployed, was not aware of available social tariffs. This instance underscores a broader issue: the need for heightened awareness and education about digital support mechanisms.

While Manchester’s initiative is praiseworthy, there’s a significant role for regulators, governments, and local authorities in fostering a society that is socially, digitally, and financially inclusive. It’s not just about providing the infrastructure but also ensuring people have the knowledge and skills to benefit from it. Enhanced efforts in these areas can lead to a more inclusive digital society, where everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, can access and utilize digital resources effectively.” – Iqbal Bedi

Cornish altnet Wildanet earns B-Corp status: Connected Britain Award winner Wildanet has earned B-Corporation status, demonstrating their adherence to social, environmental, and governance best practices.

EE completes first phase of the Shared Rural Network project: The UK’s largest mobile operator has completed its share of the joint 4G infrastructure deployment scheme ahead of schedule, but its rivals may be lagging behind.

“Rural connectivity remains one of the most challenging aspects of the UK’s digital landscape, primarily due to the high costs associated with deploying fibre in these areas. The geographical spread, lower population density, and the associated economic challenges make it a less attractive proposition for private investors and operators. However, addressing this challenge is not just a matter of equitable digital access; it’s also about unlocking significant economic potential.

Intelligens Consulting has recently conducted research indicating that by adopting wireless strategies to address the rural connectivity challenge, the UK could benefit from a GBP 4 billion economic windfall. This research underscores the viability and necessity of exploring alternative connectivity solutions like wireless technologies in rural areas. Wireless solutions offer a more cost-effective, quicker to deploy, and flexible alternative to traditional fibre, especially in geographically challenging or less densely populated areas.

Our study highlights that embracing a hybrid approach, combining both fibre and wireless technologies, is key to achieving comprehensive digital inclusion and unlocking the latent economic potential of rural areas. This approach not only provides immediate connectivity benefits but also lays a scalable foundation for future-proof networks, paving the way for advancements like 5G.

The progress made by EE in the Shared Rural Network project is commendable, but it also serves as a reminder of the broader picture – the need for innovative and economically viable solutions to ensure that rural Britain is not left behind in the digital revolution. The potential GBP 4 billion windfall from wireless strategies is a strong incentive for policymakers, investors, and operators to recalibrate their approach and investment strategies in addressing the rural connectivity challenge.”Iqbal Bedi

Fibrus brings lightning-fast broadband to Cumbria: Over 36,000 Cumbrian homes and businesses are now connected to gigabit-capable fibre.

Openreach deploys full fibre on southernmost Shetland Island: The move, supported by funding from the Scottish government’s R100 project, is Openreach’s most northern fibre deployment to date.

“Addressing the low fibre availability in Shetland, which stands at 5.7% with only a 1.3% increase over the last year, starkly contrasts with mainland regions like Burnley, where fibre availability has surged by over 60% within the same period. This disparity highlights the unique challenges faced in Shetland and similar remote areas.

Shetland’s geographical isolation and rugged terrain pose significant logistical and economic challenges for deploying fibre infrastructure. The high cost of laying fibre in such areas often outweighs the perceived immediate economic return, leading to slower investment and rollout compared to mainland regions. Additionally, the lower population density in Shetland makes it less commercially attractive for private fibre operators, who often prioritize more densely populated areas for their infrastructure investments.

The case of Shetland underscores the need for a tailored approach to connectivity in rural and remote regions. It also highlights the importance of national strategies that ensure equitable digital access across all regions, recognizing that digital connectivity is a key driver of economic growth and social inclusion.” – Iqbal Bedi

Scotland to revaluate R100 fibre broadband project: With the project running years behind schedule, the Scottish government is set to assess whether R100 still represents good value for money.

“The R100 programme’s approach, has a low threshold for government aid, and reflects a conservative strategy, especially considering Scotland’s position as the UK nation with the least developed fibre infrastructure. This cautious threshold has potentially restricted the scope of digital advancement in areas that still considerably lag behind in connectivity.

Scotland’s average fibre availability falls below the UK average, highlighting the need for a more ambitious and inclusive digital infrastructure strategy. Aligning more closely with the UK Government’s Gigabit initiatives, which target areas under 100 Mbit/s, could significantly broaden the impact of Scotland’s digital transformation efforts.

In essence, Scotland’s focus should shift towards a more comprehensive development of its digital infrastructure, aiming to bridge the gap not only in the most underserved areas but across a wider spectrum of the region. This broader approach can catalyse economic growth and enhance social inclusion, ensuring a more uniform digital progression across the nation. Intelligens Consulting’s expertise in guiding digital infrastructure investments from the private sector could be instrumental in shaping such a strategic shift towards more ambitious digital initiatives in Scotland.” – Iqbal Bedi

Want to learn more about the North’s connectivity journey? Join us in Manchester for Connected North 2024

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