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Home » Boosting Digital Infrastructure In Rural Wales ‘could Unlock £5bn’

Boosting Digital Infrastructure In Rural Wales ‘could Unlock £5bn’

The Welsh economy could benefit from a £5bn boost and 25,000 jobs if rural communities had better access to fast and reliable internet connectivity, according to new economic modelling. New research published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) for Virgin Media O2, shows improved digital connectivity in rural areas could add an extra £65.1bn to the UK economy.

The Great Rural Revival report addresses four sectors central to the UK’s rural economy – tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, and small businesses – and finds connectivity improvements could boost rural employment by 6.8%, creating an additional 284,000 new jobs nationwide.

It found that, while digital infrastructure has improved in rural areas across the UK over the last decade, there is still a divide between rural and urban communities. This, it said, is preventing rural economies from growing with many areas still unable to access reliable connectivity.

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The analysis within the report showed that Wales’ local economy could unlock £5bn and benefit from 25,000 new jobs if better internet connectivity was available. The report suggests that new technologies, such as drone farming and smart livestock monitoring could transform rural economies. Other technologies could be wearable tech and automated booking apps for the hospitality sector.

A quarter of rural businesses surveyed said they would make greater use of technologies such as cashless payments, video calling and conferencing, or online booking if connectivity was improved. In response, Virgin Media O2 said it has partnered with the Welsh Government and rural coverage network Wavemobile to provide digital infrastructure to remote parts of Wales.

The first area to benefit is at South Stack Cliffs Nature Reserve, in Anglesey. Virgin Media O2 deployed satellite technology to provide mobile connection and enable businesses to take card payments more easily and allowed the site manager, RSPB, to track birds instantly at the location for the first time.

Typically, mobile phone masts require a fibre cable to carry calls, SMS and data to and from the phone mast – a connection known in the industry as ‘backhaul’ – but that is not viable in this extremely remote location.

Instead, a network of low-earth orbit satellites are providing backhaul services to a Wavemobile radio, enabling Virgin Media O2 to provide a reliable and high-speed mobile network to the area. The equipment can provide 4G coverage to an area of several kilometres.

Economy Minister Vaughan Gething MS said: “It’s great to see Virgin Media O2 and Wavemobile continue to invest in R&D in Wales, supporting the Morlais tidal energy project and addressing a historically challenging mobile notspot.

“Bringing reliable 4G connectivity to the area will not only dramatically improve the mobile signal for the local community, businesses and visitors – enabling them to use online services using the very latest Internet of Things technology, but using satellite technology will also ensure the development does not negatively impact marine wildlife.”

Virgin Media chief technology officer Jeanie York said: “At a time when communities across the UK are struggling, this new analysis demonstrates how improved rural connectivity could herald a Great Rural Revival. The last decade has seen fixed and mobile networks rolled out to new corners of the UK, and now the transformational potential of connectivity has been made clear with the ability to unlock £65 billion of new growth in rural areas.

“Through working closely with industry partners, the UK government, planning authorities and landowners, we can deliver the essential network upgrades that will help to bridge the rural-urban connectivity divide, provide faster and more reliable coverage and unlock new jobs and growth in the process.”

Managing economist for Cebr Robert Beauchamp said: “Improved connectivity could allow rural businesses to be more efficient, make full use of digital technologies, and create more jobs to strengthen the rural economy. Without improved rural connectivity, problems which could be solved will instead remain and the opportunities related to better connectivity would not be realised, meaning rural communities will continue to underperform relative to their urban counterparts.”

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