This article was published in Networking+ on July 28, 2023. You can read the original article here.
The UK government has set in place a range of new digital initiatives such as an investment package worth almost £150 million to boost digital connectivity.
Why? Digital inclusion – vital to the UK’s ambition to be a global technological superpower – requires widespread access to broadband, but unfortunately, there remains a significant disparity between urban and rural areas in terms of internet connectivity. This lack of access is not only hindering businesses and exacerbating location-based skills gaps, but also has a negative impact on the overall digital progress of the UK. Surprisingly, some areas in the countryside have even slower broadband speeds than the moon might have soon.
Rural broadband speeds can hinder business progress for companies whose networks are in the countryside, and they can often find themselves falling behind when it comes to business growth due to the disparity in connectivity and the associated opportunities. While the pandemic highlighted the disparity between rural and urban homes in terms of internet connection and access, there should also be a focus on how this disparity between rural and urban locations is affecting enterprise networks.
The government has recognised the impact of digital disparities, and this is one reason why we’ve seen schemes such as the Smart Infrastructure Pilots Programme (SIPP) working with the government to provide better connectivity for businesses and public services across the UK to boost economic growth.
Meanwhile, rising inflation has led to increased prices in the telecommunications sector. In terms of broadband affordability, the UK ranks 76th globally. Given the reliance of businesses on broadband in today's world, it is crucial for the ability to design modern enterprise networks in rural areas and offer adequate connectivity to be accessible and affordable. Otherwise, disparate access will hamper business efficiency and contribute to the skills gaps that already exist.
The question arises: How can telecommunication companies assist in bridging this divide and providing affordable and reliable networks and connectivity to businesses in all regions?
Not just an issue for rural businesses
It is crucial to recognise that it’s not as simple as recognising the divide between rural and urban networks; inadequate broadband access is a challenge faced by both urban and rural communities, it’s just that each area encounters unique obstacles. The main hurdle in bringing broadband connectivity to rural areas lies in the access to infrastructure, as the extension of fibre-optic cables across the entire country is necessary to connect enterprise networks in more remote regions.
It is not uncommon for businesses to be in rural areas. In today's digital age, sectors such as farming, agriculture, and factories rely on the internet for their operations, and a lack of connectivity for such industries will disproportionately affect them and hold back the regrowth of the UK’s economy.
So, what prevents businesses located in urban areas from accessing fast reliable broadband? For many of them, the primary obstacle is the cost rather than the availability of the service. Since the necessary infrastructure is largely in place in terms of fibre and cable networks, the most effective solution to address the affordability and accessibility issues of broadband lies in telecommunication companies reducing the expenses associated with providing and maintaining their services.
Currently, the average price of European broadband stands at $50.87, which can be considered a significant overhead for smaller enterprises.
Could network disaggregation be a turnkey solution to both issues?
The government is developing schemes such as providing businesses with funding in remote areas who are unable to access broadband. This can connect them up to satellites and provide broadband connection that is up to 10 times faster than they currently have available.
It’s good news that the government is exploring modern ways to deliver connectivity across the country as a whole. Meanwhile, telcos can explore methods to reduce the expenses associated with delivering and operating services, aiming to provide reliable connectivity to all areas. Additionally, they can find ways to deliver higher speeds at lower costs. One potential solution is for telcos to embrace innovative technologies such as network disaggregation to bridge the UK’s digital gap.
By adopting network disaggregation, telcos can take advantage of the flexibility it offers, allowing them to combine different hardware and software components from various vendors. This approach can lead to significant cost savings and provide more affordable connectivity options. Moreover, the decoupling of hardware and software enables easier software updates without the need for complete hardware replacements. This not only reduces costs but also enhances long-term savings.
Furthermore, network disaggregation eliminates the supplier monopolies that traditionally controlled both software and hardware. By breaking this linkage, the industry becomes more competitive, driving down prices and creating opportunities for lower-cost solutions in the future.
The adoption of disaggregated networks brings scalability benefits to urban cities, where the majority number of businesses are located. By incorporating cost-effective white boxes into the network and activating new software licenses as needed, providers can easily expand their network capacity. This scalability feature is particularly appealing for urban cities, as it enables efficient and affordable network growth to meet the increasing demands of businesses and users.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to move HQ to the moon
The location of a business should not dictate its access to modern network architecture and fast broadband. Unfortunately, both rural and urban businesses in the UK continue to encounter difficulties in obtaining sufficient broadband connectivity. The encouraging news is that the government is looking for answers. This presents telecommunication companies with opportunities to work with the government to modernise networks across the board through solutions such as disaggregation and offer businesses throughout the entire country access to reliable and affordable connectivity and help them and the nation to compete on the digital world stage.