Government strategy intervenes to improve connectivity

The government has launched a major new digital strategy as its first follow-up to the industrial strategy green paper published last month, including several pledges for improving mobile phone and Wifi broadband connectivity. Improving on the UK's mobile phone and wireless infrastructure is one of seven main pillars of the new digital strategy, alongside other sections dedicated to relevant skills, cybersecurity, data use and helping businesses to modernise.

Connectivity is going to be developed by government in a more hollistic way, the strategy says. Recognising that the quality of wireless connections is paramount, the stated focus will be on giving people what they need rather than on particular technologies. For businesses there is a promise of greater quality and coverage of broadband connectivity, with a new dedicated forum to be set up between business leaders, local authorities and broadband providers, chaired by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

The new digital strategy also comes afer publication of the National Infrastructure Commission's Connected Future report on 5G and telecommunications technology in December last year. The NIC's main finding was that government needed to intervene to up the UK's game in wireless connectivity, to improve 4G and even 3G coverage in places, then to get the UK moving purposefully towards 5G. The UK is currently languishing low-down in a global ranking of countries' 4G availability, below Peru, Morocco and Romania, according to the Connected Future report.

Government has pledged to respond to the NIC's other findings, that more needs to be done to improve wireless connectvity for users of road and rail transport networks, partly so that other plans for developing connected and autonomous vehicle technology can progress. An allocation of £740m from the National Productivity Investment Fund announced in the 2016 autumn statement will support roll-out of 5G technology.

Launching the new strategy, government's secretary for culture, media and sport, Karen Bradley said: "The UK’s digital sectors are a major driver of growth and productivity, and we are determined to protect and strengthen them.

"To do that, we will work closely with businesses and others to make sure the benefits and opportunities are spread across the country so nobody is left behind. There should be no digital divide - every individual and every business should have the skills and confidence to make the most of digital technology and have easy access to high-quality internet wherever they live, work, travel or learn."