Broadband – an essential utility?

Matthew Hare, chief executive of broadband provider Gigaclear, says broadband should be seen as an essential utility in a world where we are increasingly dependent on technology.

touching screen on tablet-pcThe way that we use the internet in our homes has changed significantly since we started to deliver data as well as voice with the introduction of dial up connections in the early 1990s. This has accelerated as new technologies such as cable, DSL and wireless have changed the way we go about our daily lives, and steered an increase in the number of gadgets powered by broadband.

It’s a trend that we expect to continue as homes use multiple multimedia applications that run on many devices over these higher capacity and always-on networks. While computers were once the only devices used to access the internet, today we have seen an explosion of devices from tablets to phones and from meters to TVs. The digital decade has taken over as we use the internet for everything: entertainment, gaming, communication, shopping and home security. As a result, broadband is essential to how we use our homes.

The modern home

According to Ofcom, the number of adults with household internet access grew to 82% last year. Modern homes often have a number of screens throughout the house, each with Smart TV and access to streaming services such as Netflicks and catch up TV. That’s before you take into consideration gaming, TV on demand and music streaming from platforms like Spotify, Napster or Sonos.

The importance of a good network has extended to our working lives as the number of people working from home has hit record levels. Over 4.2 million people now work from a home office or studio – nearly 15% of the UK workforce. With more of us choosing to work from home, we need to be able to have fast access to the internet and the capacity to upload and download large files without delay.

The network may also be used to communicate with friends and family on Skype, which is just the beginning in terms of communications tools. WhatsApp, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter are now a big part of our lives in the same way that telephones were years ago. The fast pace of communication innovation is strikingly evident when you consider that only 30 years ago we had the first fixed phones, and now we have more than one mobile phone per person in the UK.

Security systems and monitoring services are also increasingly reliant on a good quality network. Homeowners can have a permanent camera at the end of their driveway or located anywhere in their house that streams live data all the time, either back to the house or accessed remotely.

The rise of online communications tools such as email, video conferencing and social media have meant it’s never been so important to have a reliable and good quality network. How do you drive your business and live your life if you haven’t got a good connection? Effective communication is now the bedrock of society and it’s for this reason that broadband should increasingly be seen as an essential utility.

Only as strong as the connection

There’s no doubt that online technology is the future in modern homes, but what happens when the network just isn’t strong enough? This is the dilemma that those living in more remote rural locations are facing.

City dwellers often have a choice of different networks, giving a good chance of a high quality broadband service. They’re also likely to have decent mobile broadband too as an alternative. In fact, I’d say the UK is high up on the global scale for the best broadband in urban areas.

Sadly, this isn’t the case in rural regions. In my opinion, we’re lagging behind other developed countries in this instance.

The government has recently spent £1.2 billion to extend to 95% of properties in the UK access to 24 Mbps per second broadband speed by the end of 2017. The majority of funding has been spent upgrading internet speeds for residents living in the more highly populated rural areas. While these speeds have been boosted from 20 Mbps to 24 Mbps or above, in line with the government’s objectives, many rural properties with a terrible 2 Mbps connection will not have experienced a change.

These remaining 5% from rural areas are the ones getting left behind. But ironically, it’s the rural areas where demand is highest.

If you live in a city, you have a choice of services of every form. For example you can walk to the cinema or theatre or club for your entertainment. Those living in the country will not have easy access to a cinema or other entertainment forms, so live streaming is more important.

For children, many schools now ask for homework to be submitted online and give students a timescale to complete a piece of work. This puts students with slow internet speeds at an immediate disadvantage and makes it incredibly difficult to submit homework within the deadline. Those living in rural communities may have no way of accessing fast internet, while city students are more likely to have a choice of good speeds, from cable, copper or mobile.

The Cloud allows employees and businesses to work from just about anywhere, but it requires good quality, reliable access to the internet to use the service. In rural regions where broadband is poor, it makes working from home (or from a rural business) with modern cloud applications near impossible.

As the network delivering broadband gets bigger in capacity, faster and more reliable, the opportunity for new technology and gadgets for the home broadens. The more reliable the network, the more homeowners will look to update and add to their home technology systems. This will in turn fuel many other markets such as technology manufacturers, distributors, retailers and professionals which will all be set to benefit.

Matthew Hare

Gigaclear provides ultrafast broadband networks in rural communities that haven’t benefitted from the latest upgrade. In the last five years Gigaclear has given 26 communities broadband speeds up to 1,000 Mbps.

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