Mobile is the invisible infrastructure that can drive the economy in post-Brexit Britain

Brendan O’Reilly
The UK was chosen by Apple to be one of the first countries outside the US to get Apple Pay
The UK was chosen by Apple to be one of the first countries outside the US to get Apple Pay (Source: Getty)

This week’s State of Mobile Networks report served as a timely reminder of the importance that people and businesses across the UK place on mobile connectivity, particularly superfast 4G.

But it also acts as a wake-up call to the fact Britain could be left behind in the global digital race and miss out on an opportunity to fuel the economy if we don’t act now to improve the UK’s digital infrastructure.

Today, four in five adults own a smartphone. And according to the latest ONS statistics, the proportion of people who use their mobiles to access the internet increased to 70 per cent in 2016, as people increasingly turn to their phones to connect with others, bank and book travel.

Read more: One simple map showing UK's mobile coverage by postcode

In fact, people in the UK are nearly three times as likely to say they can’t do without their mobile compared to fixed internet.

Clearly, mobile technology is already powering people’s lives and passion – meaning it has huge potential to deliver social and economic gains.

For businesses, the benefits of mobile technology are twofold. First, there’s a huge opportunity to harness this consumer appetite for mobile connectivity to deliver new products and services.

It is no accident that Apple and Google chose the UK as one of the first markets to launch Apple Pay and Android Pay payment options.

Secondly, mobile is transforming the effectiveness and efficiency of organisations by creating new operating models, powering smarter working practices and delivering growth.

Read more: Where are people using Apple Pay most?

Mobile connectivity is already supporting the industries and the technologies that will see businesses, communities and individuals fulfil their potential.

Mobile is the invisible infrastructure that can drive the economy of post-Brexit Britain. But to capitalise and ensure Britain doesn’t fall behind other digitally connected countries, we need to act now.

We need to switch off our analogue ambitions and work collectively – government, local authorities, regulators as well as telecoms companies – to build a digital infrastructure that is fit for the future.

Firstly, outdated planning laws must be modernised. Rights of access to mobile phone masts are inadequate affecting mobile phone customers when network faults need to be fixed and new sites need to be installed.

The Digital Economy Bill sets us on the right path but solving this issue requires a bold, long-term vision, leadership, partnership and collective effort by industry, government, local authorities, regulators and the public.

Secondly, Britain needs a regulatory environment that incentivises the massive investment being made by the industry, and delivers a level playing field and supports a competitive market for customers. Ofcom has made it clear that it wants a market in which four strong operators can compete fairly.

Read more: BT to invest £6bn in fibre, 4G and customer service

Spectrum is a vital asset to enable such competition and measures should be taken to guarantee that the forthcoming auction doesn’t result in further imbalance, spectrum hoarding or strategic bidding.

This isn’t about getting spectrum cheap. It’s about efficient and effective use of spectrum to deliver for consumers and help reboot the economy.

At O2, we want to continue to improve and expand our network through our five-year £3bn plus modernisation program to ensure the UK’s digital infrastructure can meet this demand – and so people across Britain can get the mobile connectivity they want to power their passions and grow their businesses.

We all need to work together to capitalise on the potential of mobile connectivity to secure an economic future for everyone.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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