BCC and Mobile UK: Remove barriers to improved mobile coverage and level up remote working

14th August 2020

Research from the British Chambers of Commerce, in partnership with Mobile UK, has underlined the importance of good quality mobile coverage to enable firms to restart and maintain operations successfully after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The two organisations are calling on the government to work with industry leaders to bring forward urgently plans that will remove unnecessary barriers to improving coverage and enhancing data capacity. 

The research found that: 

  • Nearly 80 per cent of respondents expect to either maintain or increase their lockdown levels of mobile-network usage over the next 12 months. 
  • Over two thirds of firms have increased the usage of activities that utilise mobile networks  
  • 59 per cent of firms agreed that enhanced mobile coverage and data capacity would support their business to restart operations 

The leading business organisation, which has long-campaigned to fix areas with poor or minimal mobile coverage as part of its ‘No More Not Spots’ campaign, and mobile network operator trade association Mobile UK, are calling on the government to remove unnecessary barriers that continue to make it difficult to build out mobile infrastructure, such as amending the Electronic Communications Code and updating permitted development system for telecoms equipment. 

The research follows a BCC survey in 2018 which found that of over 1,400 companies, a fifth (21 per cent) said UK mobile availability did not meet their needs in accessing new and existing customers, suppliers and employees. 

The BCC welcomes the joint £1 billion Shared Rural Network initiative between the mobile operators and the Government to extend 4G mobile coverage to 95% of the UK’s landmass by 2025. However, to fully realise this, and to build the mobile networks to underpin increased mobile usage, and enable 4G and 5G upgrades, the two organisations call on the Government to expedite its proposals reforming the permitted development rights systems as part of COVID-19 recovery planning.

The survey found that nearly 80 per cent of respondents expect to either maintain or increase their lockdown levels of mobile-network usage over the next 12 months. With many employees continuing to work remotely, better connectivity will be crucial in all regions of the UK, and not just in city centres. 

The results also showed that 59 per cent of respondents either agreed or strongly agreed that enhanced mobile coverage would help their business to restart or maintain operations. 

With two thirds of firms reporting increases in activities that utilise mobile networks, and only 4 per cent of respondents reporting a decrease, better mobile network coverage and data capacity will be vital to ensuring firms can adapt to the ‘new normal’.   

BCC Co-Executive Director Claire Walker said: 

“A reliable mobile phone signal is a basic requirement for any business. It has become even more critical since the coronavirus pandemic. 

“With a majority of firms expecting to continue working from home for the foreseeable future, and fewer employees commuting to city centres, it will be critical to accelerate solutions to improving areas with partial or no coverage to ensure that no business is left behind. 

“Our research highlights the real opportunity for government to work with industry leaders and remove unnecessary barriers to upgrading vital infrastructure that can truly level up all regions of the UK.” 

Mobile UK Head of Policy and Communications, Gareth Elliott, said: 

“The BCC’S COVID-19 tracker has clearly shown that changes to business practices, the so called new normal, are not simply a flash in the pan and increased mobile network usage is set to continue. It is therefore all the more important that changes that will break down barriers to building the necessary 4G and 5G infrastructure are brought forward. In particular planning proposals must be translated into legislative change this year, so that the economic recovery from COVID can be supported by world-class digital infrastructure.” 

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