February 2021: The first phase of the new Shared Rural Network could boost rural business turnover by £187.7 million, with the lion’s share of revenue gains going to businesses in rural Scotland and the struggling hospitality sector, according to a new report commissioned by O2.
Announced on 27th January, the first phase of the DCMS-backed initiative will see O2, Three and Vodafone aim to bring an end to partial not-spots – areas where at least one, but not all of the UK’s mobile networks provide 4G coverage – and bring the proportion of the UK with access to 4G networks from 67% to 84% by building and sharing over 222 new mobile mast sites.
O2 commissioned Development Economics to model the benefits this will bring to rural businesses and individuals, with the report finding that once the first phase of the rollout has been completed, rural businesses situated near new mobile mast sites could benefit from an annual increase in turnover of £187.7 million.
Access to the Shared Rural Network for individuals and businesses will also allow these rural communities to contribute an extra £58.9 million to the UK economy each year, at a time when the economy needs it most.
Scottish businesses and hard-hit hospitality sector to benefit most
When broken up into regions, the Development Economics report found that the largest share – around 28% – of the gains in business turnover and productivity are expected to occur in rural Scotland, valued at £79 million in additional business turnover and a £24.1 million added contribution to the UK economy.
This is followed by Northern Ireland, which will see 16% of the predicted net gains, South West England with around 15%, Wales with 14% and the North West of England with around 8% (see the full table in the Notes for Editors section).
The report also revealed that 42% of the projected increase in turnover will benefit those in the struggling hospitality sector, covering rural distribution, hotels and catering businesses, which are in line for a £78.8 million boost to revenues. This boost could mean the difference between staying open or closing for many pubs and hotels, making the Shared Rural Network a potential lifeline for this beleaguered sector.
The other sectors that account for the largest shares of the increase in turnover are expected to be transport and communications, with 17% of the predicted revenue increase, and professional, financial, property and business services, which will enjoy 10% of the increase.
O2 continues separate multi-million-pound investment in 4G network and rural businesses
In addition to the Shared Rural Network initiative, O2 has continued to invest in the rollout of its 4G network, including providing a 4G boost to circa 180,000 postcodes across the UK over 2020.
O2 is investing more than ever in its network to improve coverage and experience for all its customers across the UK, with O2 4G now available to customers in over 19,230 towns, cities and villages, including rural villages such as Welney, Lakesend and Tipps End in Norfolk.
Rural businesses are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the investment that O2 continues to make in its 4G network, which provides them with the connectivity they need to maintain effective communication and access new and existing markets and customers.
Derek McManus, COO at O2 said: “Alongside our own continued investment in 4G, we’re delighted to be progressing with the first phase of the Shared Rural Network initiative and supporting rural Britain. The last year proved that reliable mobile connectivity has been essential for keeping us all connected to our loved ones and keeping businesses across the UK up and running – and 2021 is set to be no different.
“Our latest research shows that mobile has the power to make a real, positive difference to people in rural communities and demonstrates the difference we can make when operators, the Government and Ofcom work together to achieve a shared objective.”
O2 is the Connectivity Partner of this year’s Rural Business Awards, which recognise and celebrate the successes of businesses that contribute to the UK’s rural economy.
Jemma Clifford, Director and Co-Founder of the Rural Business Group, the Award’s organisers, said: “We come into contact with hundreds of rural businesses each year through the Rural Business Awards and have heard first-hand how connectivity can make a huge difference to rural businesses right across the country. We welcome the work of the Shared Rural Network and O2’s own investment in its 4G network in continuing to reach rural areas yet to see this benefit and allowing these rural businesses to flourish.”