Brendan O’Reilly, Chief Technology Officer at O2, explains why connectivity – just as much as plumbing and electricity – must be embedded within the fabric of new buildings.
The latest ONS report on UK internet access showed that nearly three quarters of adults are using smartphones to get online – nearly double the number just five years ago. With such widespread and increasing demand for mobile internet access, it goes without saying that people expect a reliable, fast connection whenever and wherever they are.
For those in the property sector, this increasing demand is becoming particularly pertinent. Connectivity is becoming a deal breaker for people looking to buy, rent or invest in property – whether commercial or residential. At this year’s UK Construction Week conference at the NEC in Birmingham, I spoke about the rapidly increasing importance of ubiquitous connectivity and the steps we need to take to secure the UK’s digital future.
Internet speed checkers are now routinely provided by sites such as Zoopla, Rightmove and uSwitch, and the Home Builders Federation recently pledged to deliver superfast broadband connectivity to new build properties across the UK. Connectivity – just as much as plumbing and electricity – must be embedded within the fabric of new buildings. It’s now a modern day utility that we can’t do without. It’s therefore more important than ever for mobile operators and property developers to work closely together to build the right conditions to meet this demand.
Digital is the invisible infrastructure that will allow businesses to flourish, communities to better serve their citizens and people to work, play and spend whenever, wherever and however they like. We are spending £2m a day to roll out 4G, as well as upgrading existing 2G and 3G networks to improve coverage for our customers. However, with 5G on the horizon, we must all work together to build the digital network we need for the future. We need equal effort from government, local authorities, and property developers to build the always-on connectivity that our economy depends on.
Landlords and developers hold the key to providing operators with access to new site installations and areas where network faults need to be fixed. Times and technology have changed; improved mobile infrastructure no longer needs to be obtrusive. We want to work with you to build better connected properties, which are ultimately more attractive properties.
Builders, planners and architects have real opportunities to consider mobile connectivity in the very first stages of development. Consider using materials that don’t obstruct mobile connectivity and ensure that connectivity considerations are front of mind throughout the different stages of development, so that the end-user is guaranteed great mobile connectivity, from street, to front door, to front room.
The government also need to create the right regulatory environment to stimulate investment in mobile infrastructure. The Digital Economy Bill has set us on the right track by simplifying planning rules for mobile infrastructure and helping to cut delays and costs, but more needs to be done, particularly as we look to the future and to 5G. We also need councils to support planning applications with an understanding that mobile connectivity will improve prosperity for local people.
We need to work more closely with the property industry to build a greater appreciation and understanding of the importance and desire for improved connectivity. The people working in new developments need to feel reassured that they have guaranteed connectivity, which is such a crucial element of their day-to-day lives. If we work together now to give people and businesses the mobile connectivity they want and need, we will all reap the benefits of a more connected, more prosperous UK economy for years to come.
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