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The results of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce’s latest survey into businesses’ experiences of broadband and mobile services in the county indicates a growing awareness of the importance of fifth generation (5G) mobile technology, as well as concerns about current infrastructure on their day-to-day operations – especially in market towns and rural areas.


The initial Suffolk Chamber survey was conducted at the start of the year and showed that local firms were very aware of the enormous benefits to be had from using 5G. But the same research also suggested many are worried that delays to rolling out the needed infrastructure (including both new masts and additions to existing ones)could hurt their growth plans – and the county’s longer-term prosperity.

5G represents a generational advance over 4G technology as it provides not only advanced data and voice connectivity but is the key platform for the ‘internet of things’ and other advanced automation systems.
The second research wave (carried out in September) suggested that awareness levels of 5G have increased, alongside the number of firms looking to invest in new processes and equipment – although many were concerned that the infrastructure required was not yet in place in their areas.

The key facts across the two surveys are:

• A slight increase in businesses recognising and/or trying to utilise the potential of 5G – but the overall figure remains under 50%
• A spike in companies saying that 5G is important in growing their businesses (32% to 44%)
• The biggest prospective benefit of 5G continues to be improving production efficiency (24% to 34%) with a fall in those unsure how it might help (18% to 9%)

Steve Britt, chair of Suffolk Chamber’s influential Transport & Infrastructure Group, said: “These trends suggest that the awareness of 5G’s potential to deliver business benefits through the internet of things is slowly spreading. However, Suffolk Chamber believes that the industry and others need to improve both awareness of those benefits and to speed up the rollout of the necessary infrastructure to help firms’ justify the required new investments.

“After our 5G summit in the summer, we have been in active talks with all the mobile operators, local councils and our MPs to ensure the county is not left behind in this regard. We remain hopeful that the Suffolk system will rise to the challenge and ensure that businesses in rural areas in particular can grow and prosper through the setting up of a Suffolk Business Digital Champions Group .”

The survey also contained a great deal of evidence about the impact of less-than-robust broadband and 4G services on businesses’ current operations. This was especially true of firms in the county’s various market towns and rural areas.

Comments included:

• “There is too much variance in the quality of communications in Suffolk. Not only does it increase our costs but we are, by default, less efficient”
• “Mobile phone signal is extremely poor in the more rural parts of west Suffolk”
• “We are unable to communicate effectively at some of our sites where there is no conventional broadband access. This means that the site team cannot function”
• “Still waiting for 5G and fibre to the building. In a rural area we have weak infrastructure and are at the bottom of the list”
• “I work in the sticks – very poor reception and if broadband goes down, I cannot use current mobile to tether to”
• “Capability is adequate for the level of staff that we have, but adding staff will cause a strain on the system. These additional costs impact on our profitability.”

Paul Simon, Suffolk Chamber’s head of public affairs, added: “These and many other similar comments make for worrying reading. So many good Suffolk businesses are patently struggling to operate as they would like and their growth plans are being curtailed by patchy levels of digital services.

“Suffolk Chamber will be sharing this information with both local councils and the various mobile operators as evidence that all is not well in the county.

“We will also be taking evidence from CityFibre, the company selected to deliver Project Gigabit, the rural full fibre programme, at our next Transport & Infrastructure Group meeting as improved broadband infrastructure will also help underpin the rollout of wider 5G coverage. “

The Chamber is also taking a leading role in promoting the importance of 5G technology on a national stage by working with Mobile UK, the national trade body representing the four operators, and the British Chambers of Commerce.

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Suffolk Chamber

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