Building connectivity around our customers

By Derek McManus, Chief Operating Officer of O2, Telefonica UK

Mobile connectivity has become essential in our day-to-day lives and its central importance to the future growth of our economy is growing.

This year four in five adults in Britain will own a smartphone as they replace computers and laptops as the go-to hub for their personal and professional lives. In the last year alone in the UK, the number of people signed up to 4G contracts almost doubled to over 39m, allowing them to connect and do business while out and about[1].

A more connected society is a more productive one, able to communicate and trade more easily, to attract overseas business and create new jobs, helping to support and grow the digital economy. Our own research tells us that an effective rollout of 5G connectivity will add over £7 billion a year to the UK economy by 2026, and that it will promise a far quicker return on investment than fibre broadband.

At O2, we know a good network experience matters most to our customers. It’s why we invest £2 million every day towards growing our network infrastructure throughout the UK. It enables a whole range of connectivity needs, from bringing data to remote communities for the first time, to providing faster downloads in busy cities.

We believe the best way to build networks is in response to customer needs. So we are serious about listening. We test our customers’ experience relentlessly, nearly 150,000 times a month across voice, text and data. In addition, every week we send out 47,000 surveys to customers in 120 postcodes across the UK, while many more of our customers use our tools, such as the My Network App or Status Checker, to tell us how we’re doing.

The Scottish Government’s decision to update the planning regulation for Scotland, at the end of July, is to be welcomed as it will relax planning regulations around masts, establishing a flexible and responsive planning environment to provide the effective roll-out of mobile infrastructure. This will help operators meet the increasing demand for 4G mobile connectivity across Scotland, which in turn will enable people to stay connected to friends and family, work from home or even run their own business from home.

It provides new freedom to improve the mobile experience for rural communities – switching on rural areas and also boosting network performance in densely populated areas or along roads or railways.

It should mean renewed collective effort from operators, communities, local authorities and regulators, to work together to ensure network improvements that benefit Scottish citizens at work and play.

We know the difference it can make. Due to lack of coverage residents in one of Wales’s most remote villages, Staylittle, were forced to stay indoors to make and receive phone calls and had to resort to expensive, patchy satellite home internet to get online. O2 installed a permanent 4G mobile mast, which provides full 3G and 4G coverage to the entire village, enabling villagers to make calls, connect online with their family and friends, access social media – all the things many of us take for granted but which had been a luxury for them.

At O2, we are constantly listening to our customers, and are working tirelessly to bring about equivalent improvements. We know how important connectivity is to lives and livelihoods, and the onus is on us to deliver that.

Next month’s change in regulation around planning laws sets us on the right path. But now we must all work collaboratively to ensure a better connected experience that benefits consumers and businesses alike.

Only by working in partnership with local government, communities, businesses and other operators will we deliver the infrastructure for a prosperous digital future for Scotland and for the UK more widely.

You can read the piece online on The Herald’s website here.

[1] Ofcom Communications Report Facts and Figures 2016. Available: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/media/facts