Derek McManus

Member Article

Digital infrastructure investment is equally important as HS2

Chief operating officer at O2, Derek McManus, looks at why investment in digital infrastructure is equally important as HS2 in the quest to secure long term economic growth in the UK.

Debate around HS2 has been reignited in light of the recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) comments stating that the Department for Transport had “not yet presented a convincing strategic case” for the huge investment into the project, now budgeted at £42.6bn.

The question on everyone’s lips is whether we should be investing more into other areas of the country’s infrastructure that will be quicker to build, be of more immediate benefit, at a lower cost, and also provide the potential for more long term growth in our economy.

The answer, in my opinion, is further investment in the UK’s digital infrastructure.

On job creation alone, the figures speak for themselves. The Governments believes that over 30 years the HS2 rail link will create more than 44,000 jobs, while a 2010 report from Digital Europe states that £15 billion invested in the UK’s ICT infrastructure would create approximately 700,000 UK jobs, over half of which would come from small businesses.

HS2 will cut 20 minutes off journey times from London to Birmingham and one hour off London to Leeds or Manchester, allowing commuters to travel to work or meetings in these cities significantly faster. The obvious benefit here is that workers will spend less time travelling and more in the office, therefore increasing productivity and boosting economic growth.

In reality, the provision of wireless internet on trains, wireless hotspots in stations, and now super-fast 4G direct to mobile devices, all allow the vast majority of work to be done whilst on the move. Today’s technology means that trains can increasingly be used as mobile offices by workers who commute regularly, meaning that even on long journeys our workforce is still equipped to be nearly as productive as they would at their desk. This shows how a strong digital infrastructure can actually help tackle the main problem that HS2 is trying to solve.

The value of the recent investment in a super-fast 4G network for UK will further act as a clear sign that digital should be at the heart of future government spending on infrastructure projects.

4G provides users with access to broadband-speed internet almost anywhere. Large files can be downloaded and sent whilst on the move, video conferencing can take place almost anywhere, and real-time data can be sent from the point of source, all without the need for an office, a desk or even a computer. This faster, mobile internet connection will improve both efficiency and productivity across industries and sectors, in both private and public organisations.

While 4G is a huge step forward for the UK, and will undoubtedly unlock economic growth for years to come, we are still playing catch up with many parts of the world. For example, by the end of this year South Korea aims to have one Gigabit broadband direct to every home in the country – that’s ten times faster than the current fibre broadband offerings of Britain’s leading providers Therefore, if Britain hopes to be a future world leader in business and innovation, it is vital that digital infrastructure receives the same level of investment as HS2.

With a fraction of what we will spend on HS2, we could create a network which moves Britain in line with the likes of South Korea as well as pioneering the next generation of mobile internet: 5G. Investing in our digital infrastructure will ensure that the UK does not fall behind the curve in technological innovation, but rather leads the race and reaps the economic rewards as a result. In short, high speed internet should be treated with equal priority to high speed rail over the coming years, and this should be reflected in the Government’s future investment plans.

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by O2 Business .

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