As the festive shopping season reaches its zenith, Virgin Media O2 has unveiled crucial 4G upgrades and new 5G connectivity across over 55,000 rural postcodes, aiming to resolve common connectivity issues afflicting shoppers and retailers in these areas. This move comes amid statistics that highlight the continued digital divide between urban and rural areas, which adversely impacts the rural economy.
A survey commissioned by the telecom giant reveals that more than half of Brits (52%) have plans to spend locally with rural small businesses this Christmas. Connectivity issues such as inability to make card or contactless payments (42%), finding businesses online (45%), and lack of online purchase options (23%) are concerns that Virgin Media O2’s upgrades aim to address. Their swift resolution could also potentially enhance the turnover of small rural businesses by 10.5% and bolster the UK economy by adding a further £16.3bn.
These 4G and 5G network upgrades span more than 55,000 rural postcodes and are expected to alleviate common connectivity problems associated with card and online payments. Economic modelling conducted by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) for Virgin Media O2 suggests that this improvement in rural connectivity could add an extra £16.3bn to the UK economy and generate 108,000 new jobs.
Probing further into the rural-urban digital divide, Virgin Media O2's research highlights that 49% of respondents are motivated to shop locally to bolster the local economy. Additionally, 65% identified the chance of finding unique products and services as the influencing factor for their choice. However, connectivity issues have hampered rural shoppers' ability to engage small businesses within the locality. Virgin Media O2 thus hopes that these recent connectivity advancements can bridge this divide.
In readiness for the peak trading period leading up to Christmas, Virgin Media O2 has enacted significant 4G and 5G network upgrades in rural UK postcodes. Over the past year, these include the deployment of its high-speed 5G network to over 30,000 rural areas and 4G network improvements in more than 34,245 postcodes across the rural landscape.
According to the "Great Rural Revival" report commissioned by Virgin Media O2, improving rural connectivity across the UK could result in a 7.7% increase in turnover for small businesses, adding another £16.3bn to the national economy and creating more than 108,000 jobs. Among the significant rural economic sectors analysed in the report, small businesses stand to gain the most through improved connectivity.
Fiona Warren, owner of a Yorkshire-based rural dog grooming business, underscores the importance of connectivity. "Being a rural small business owner," Fiona reflects, "If I can't access the internet or contact my customers, it significantly impacts business cash flow and the bottom line."
The company’s "Great Rural Revival" report highlights that enhancing rural connectivity could unlock an additional £65.1bn for the UK economy. Virgin Media O2 is also delivering part of the UK Government's Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme and, in doing so, has extended its reliable 4G network to 50 more sites and secured planning consent for work on 100 more. As well as investing in rural connectivity, they are calling on policy makers, planning authorities, and landlords to streamline rules around providing necessary infrastructure.
Jeannie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2, said, “Small businesses are the cornerstone of the UK economy and are vitally important to rural communities. Our Great Rural Revival report demonstrates the transformational power improved connectivity could have for these rural small businesses, and this is why we are committed to enhancing connectivity in these areas.”
Helen Morgan, MP for North Shropshire and Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Levelling up, Housing, and Communities said, “No business in the UK should be disadvantaged because of where they are based. Businesses in my constituency, as well as other rural areas, have previously been held back because of a lack of connectivity, so Virgin Media O2's recent work to improve this situation in these communities is most welcome. This research demonstrates how much of an impact improved connectivity could have by enabling businesses to become more efficient and improve their customer experience with digital technology."