The Industrial Revolution that saw the building of the railways was a period of frenzied activity in the UK that changed the country forever. So was the creation of the national grid of electricity services, which brought light, heat and power to all.
Now, another great infrastructure period of activity is taking place: the rollout of fixed and mobile broadband services as part of the digital revolution.
From the Isles of Scilly to the Scottish Isles, from London to Cardiff and Edinburgh, the UK’s internet infrastructure is being supercharged to bring far faster speeds and greater availability of services to almost all areas of the land.
The impact is already being felt. Data from Ofcom earlier this year showed that the UK's average broadband speed has risen to 18.7Mbps, a five-fold increase since 2008, while one in four businesses can access superfast speeds of 30Mbps or more.
Ofcom has noted that there is still more to be done but the overall speed increases are vital as they come amid a major transition that is seeing more people working from home and in varied locations, meaning access to fast and reliable mobile broadband is vital.
The largest portion of the broadband revolution relates to fixed networks. BT has been leading this charge, as it rolls out fibre to the cabinet services that should ensure speeds far in excess of the 24Mbps minimum the UK government wants to provide for all.
BT has done this to around two-thirds of its network, run by Openreach, which means other providers, including the likes of TalkTalk and Sky, can offer these faster services.
The second aspect of this rollout involves using government funding from the Broadband Delivery UK framework, in conjunction with local council budgets and more BT funding, to bring fibre to more far-flung locations.
Public sector funding is required as there would not have been the economic case to justify the cost of rolling out broadband in more remote locations. As a result of this funding, areas of the UK previously suffering slow connections are now coming online.
In the Outer Hebrides, for example, BT has brought fibre ashore using undersea cables to hook up the islands, while in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (pictured), in a project involving EU funding, numerous businesses are benefiting from enhanced speeds.
The Driftwood Spars pub in St Agnes on the north coast of Cornwall moved to a 40Mbps connection from BT in 2011, and has never looked back. It now hosts online video wine-tasting sessions with vineyards as far afield as New Zealand, something that would have been impossible before.
The combined effort of these rollouts means that access to superfast broadband in homes and small offices around the UK is improving all the time, with the ultimate goal to have 95 percent coverage by 2017.
For firms based in remote locations, or with staff that travel around, this is a huge boost, as it should mean that staff have no issues getting online wherever they find themselves, enabling them to send files, access cloud tools and numerous other web-centric requirements.
Coupled with this spread of broadband networks has been the rise in public WiFi hotspots, found everywhere from hotels and coffee shops to the bowels of the London Underground thanks to a rollout from Virgin Media that started in 2012.
This increase in hotspots makes it easier for people in a city centre or visiting a town or village to find some form of connection, to get online via their tablet, laptop or smartphone, and access information whenever required.
BT has over five million WiFi hotspots, while other providers such as O2 and The Cloud provide access in numerous locations. It’s not perfect, yet, and we all know the frustration of not being able to find a WiFi hotspot, but these gaps are diminishing all the time.
Meanwhile, there is a third element of connectivity that can step in to replace, and often improve this situation: 4G networks.
4G for all
The rollout of 4G networks has come on leaps and bounds in the past few years, taking the UK from a laggard to a leader, with widespread services available from all the major operators: Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three.
Each mobile network offers 4G services, that promise far faster speeds than ever seen before, and they are all rushing ahead to make services even faster. EE in particular is expecting to turn on 300Mbps services by 2015 and is testing 400Mbps too.
All the operators are also rushing to turn on 4G in as many locations as they can, to ensure that those with suitable smartphones can access the high-speed networks in more locations than ever - and pay higher contract prices for the privilege.
This means smartphone users can access the internet with rapid speeds, or turn their devices into a WiFi hotspot, so their laptop or tablet can tether and get online in locations where previously connectivity was impossible.
For business, the benefits of 4G are clear. One clear indicator of this is the Berkshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, which moved to 4G to improve field workers’ efficiency.
The trust provided care workers with a 4G MiFi device to tether their laptops. This meant that after a patient visit, staff could input and upload data from their car or remote office, rather than having to head back to the office.
This helps staff spend more time on the road in the community, rather than traipse back to the office.
Such examples are commonplace as smartphones, tablets and ultra-light laptops become key tools for workers in all types of industries. The rising availability of faster, more widespread connectivity is the driving force behind this, making remote and mobile working a viable reality for millions.
With research into 5G networks underway, and BT and Virgin Media trialling ever faster networks and innovative ways to rollout broadband services even quicker, the digital infrastructure of the UK will continue to improve the possibilities for mobile working.
A version of this article first appeared in the V3 Enterprise Mobility Definitive Guide, available for iOS, Android and the web.
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