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Business & Economy

Improve mobile coverage to boost COVID-19 recovery, says BCC and Mobile UK

Good quality mobile coverage is the key to enabling businesses to restart and maintain operations following the coronavirus pandemic, according to new research from the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) in partnership with Mobile UK.

The two organisations are calling on the Government to bring forward plans that will remove barriers to improving coverage and enhancing data capacity.

This would include amending the Electronic Communications Code and updating the permitted development system for telecoms equipment.

The BCC has long campaigned to fix areas with poor mobile coverage as part of its ‘No More Not Spots’ campaign and Mobile UK is the network operator trade association.

Nearly 80 per cent of respondents in the latest survey said they expected to either maintain or increase their lockdown levels of mobile network usage over the next 12 months.

Over two thirds said they had increased the usage of activities that utilise mobile networks during the same period.

Ultimately, 59 per cent agreed that enhanced mobile coverage and data capacity would support their business to restart operations.

The Government’s plan to tackle this issue comes in the form of a £1 billion Shared Rural Network initiative, which aims to extend 4G mobile coverage to 95 per cent of the UK’s landmass by 2025.

However, to fully realise this and enable 4G and 5G upgrades, the BCC and Mobile UK are asking the Government to expedite reforms to permitted development rights systems as part of COVID-19 recovery planning.

BCC co-executive director Claire Walker said: “A reliable mobile phone signal is a basic requirement for any business. It has become even more critical since the coronavirus pandemic.

“With a majority of firms expecting to continue working from home for the foreseeable future, and fewer employees commuting to city centres, it will be critical to accelerate solutions to improving areas with partial or no coverage to ensure that no business is left behind.

“Our research highlights the real opportunity for government to work with industry leaders and remove unnecessary barriers to upgrading vital infrastructure that can truly level up all regions of the UK.”

Mobile UK head of policy and communications, Gareth Elliott, added: “The BCC’S COVID-19 tracker has clearly shown that changes to business practices, the so called new normal, are not simply a flash in the pan and increased mobile network usage is set to continue.

“It is therefore all the more important that changes that will break down barriers to building the necessary 4G and 5G infrastructure are brought forward.

“In particular planning proposals must be translated into legislative change this year, so that the economic recovery from COVID can be supported by world-class digital infrastructure.”