Over the past few months or so we’ve seen the true value of digital communications and the Internet. Engineers around the world have been working hard behind the scenes, keeping the world connected, day and night. This has been an impressive feat, especially as much of the world’s networks have not been built with large numbers of home and remote workers in mind.
Despite recent investment around the world, many users are still relying on legacy infrastructure which has a number of limitations in terms of reliability and capacity. Fibre networks on the other hand bring a huge advance in capacity and reliability. These high quality, low latency networks have supported working, learning, shopping, laughing, crying and a lot of quizzing. It’s kept people informed and ensured vital work could continue.
“Infrastructure” has long been a by-word for roads and rails. Yet for over a decade, the telecoms sector has invested billions into building a modern digital platform. Without that investment, 97% of homes couldn’t access superfast broadband, and the experience of lockdown would’ve been far more isolating.
Through this pandemic, we’ve glimpsed the future. More people working at home. Better air quality. Online GP consultations. Elderly relatives connecting digitally. Children learning via the web. We’ve learnt how to embrace technology and it’s vital that we hold onto those benefits and carry this experience into our new, more connected future.
The UK is a prime example of how further investment in infrastructure could have a huge economic benefit. The Centre for Economics & Business Research (CEBR) estimates that full fibre deployment on its own could boost working from home by just over a million additional people, taking the share working more than 2 days a week from home in England and Wales up from 11.9% to 16.2%. But as a result of the COVID-19 crisis the organisation now believes that, come 2025, we might have about a quarter (25% or 6 million people) of the workforce working from home on any day. This technology will also help to create 1.2 million jobs.
Similar studies in other parts of the world suggest that fibre network investment will have a similar effect based upon similar levels of remote working and adoption of new technology. Scale up the benefits to a global level and it’s clear to see the potential impact.
Of course, it’s not just remote workers who benefit from improved fibre networks. Businesses too will enjoy the overall improved connectivity and fibre also opens up a whole new range of smart building and smart city possibilities, all of which can help to make our world a nicer and safer place to live.
At a time when the global economy needs a boost, Governments and telecoms providers have a golden opportunity to work together to build next generation networks. Global investment in full fibre and 5g will boost the productivity by nearly billions of dollars every year, slash carbon emissions from commuting, and enable more people to access employment whilst balancing caring or parenting responsibilities. It would reduce transport and housing pressures in big cities and level-up rural and local economies throughout the country.
So whilst the current pandemic has had a devastating effect on many individuals and the global economy as a whole, it also provides a once in a generation opportunity to seize the moment, invest in technology, create new jobs and help to shape our future direction for the next few decades.