National Chairman, Federation of Small Businesses
The rapid rollout of 5G is currently underway, set to bring much faster and more reliable mobile data connections across the UK – and small businesses are getting involved.
Encouragingly, small businesses are keen to be part of this new generation mobile network, eager to take advantage of new levels of connectivity. And, because using 5G will require a new compatible phone and sim card, they appear to be keen on investing in new technology to upgrade.
In fact, around a third (34%) of small firms have told us that they are willing to purchase a new mobile device to ensure they can use 5G when it becomes available in their area.
Over the last year, the major mobile network operators have been announcing when and where they are beginning their rollout, starting in major cities and towns.
Small businesses in these areas will benefit, whether they upgrade to 5G straight away or choose to wait longer.
Those who make the leap early will benefit from vastly improved data speeds. Those who choose to wait longer to upgrade will benefit from the alleviation in bandwidth constraints on the 4G network as others leave it behind in favour of 5G.
The way we do business has changed, with many small firms now embracing digital technology to ramp up their productivity.
New masts to be installed for better coverage
Large-scale investment in more localised masts will be needed to improve coverage, so the benefits will take some time to come to fruition.
As encouraging as these statistics are, the current state of mobile connectivity across the UK leaves a lot to be desired, with so many small business owners still struggling to get decent signal.
Our new research found that almost half of small businesses in the UK experience unreliable voice connectivity on their mobiles – a figure that rises for those living and working in rural areas of the country.
Poor signal is damaging small businesses’ success – especially in rural areas
Our members often tell us stories of interrupted calls with clients as the phone cuts out, or having to go outside their premises just to get signal on their mobile.
As you might expect, the impact of this on small firms is damaging, with more than one in three small firms prevented from contacting or being contacted by existing customers – or even potential new clients.
Worryingly, a similar number told us these connection problems have been a barrier to growing their business, while over a quarter of small firms said it has led to a loss of business or sales.
The way we do business has changed, with many small firms now embracing digital technology to ramp up their productivity. The growing use of e-commerce and the fact that an ever-increasing number of government services for businesses are being delivered online, demonstrates just how key improving our digital infrastructure really is for small firms.
There are plans to auction the necessary spectrum band of both 4G and 5G next year. Ensuring that these happen without delay, mobile network operators will be able to buy new spectrum to rollout 4G and 5G to more areas, which would go some way to bridging the widening communication gap in the countryside.
Improving digital connectivity is an urgent priority to ensure our 5.8 million-strong small business community remains the engine of the UK economy.