• With new research revealing that more than half of Brits plan to support rural small businesses this Christmas, Virgin Media O2 has rolled out 4G upgrades and new 5G connectivity across more than 55,000 rural postcodes ahead of the peak shopping period.
  • This comes as economic analysis from the Cebr for Virgin Media O2 finds access to excellent digital connectivity1 in rural areas could increase turnover for rural small businesses by 10.5% and add an extra £16.3 billion to the UK economy and create over 100,000 jobs.

19 December London – With more than half (52%) of Brits planning to shop local and support their rural high streets this Christmas, Virgin Media O2 has announced upgrades to its 4G network and new 5G deployment across more than 55,000 rural postcodes.

It is anticipated that the upgrades will help tackle some of the everyday connectivity headaches that small businesses in rural areas are facing, such as reliably taking card and online payments. This will enable these businesses to ensure they can make the most of the upcoming Christmas shopping period, which is undoubtedly very important to their success.

The upgrades come as economic modelling from Cebr for Virgin Media O2 shows improving rural connectivity could add an extra £16.3 billion to the UK economy and create 108,000 new jobs.

Brits want to shop local in boost for rural business

New research commissioned by the telecoms company shows 52% of Brits plan to spend with a rural small business this Christmas, with almost half (49%) motivated by supporting the local economy and two thirds (65%) saying that the opportunity to find unique products and services influences their choice.

However, the digital divide between urban and rural areas continues to hinder the rural economy with new polling for Virgin Media O2 revealing that shoppers in rural areas have been unable to buy from small businesses due to connectivity challenges. Common issues include being unable to make card or contactless payments (42%), find a business online (45%) and a lack of online purchase options (23%).

Upgrading rural communities ahead of peak shopping period

To help support rural communities in the key trading period running up to Christmas, Virgin Media O2 has made a host of significant 4G and 5G network upgrades to rural postcodes across the UK. Over the past year, the operator has deployed high-speed 5G network to more than 30,000 rural areas and has also improved its 4G network to boost capacity in more than 34,245 postcodes across the countryside.

Economic opportunity for rural small businesses

Economic analysis for Virgin Media O2 by Cebr shows that improving rural connectivity across the UK could boost turnover for rural small businesses by over 7.7%, adding an extra £16.3 billion to the UK economy and creating more than 108,000 jobs. Of the four major rural economic sectors analysed in Virgin Media O2’s ‘Great Rural Revival’ report, rural small businesses could expect the greatest absolute increase in turnover and employment thanks to improved connectivity.

Fiona Warren, owner of a rural dog grooming business based in Yorkshire comments “As a rural small business owner, I cannot overstate how important connectivity is for the running of my business. I’m often travelling across the countryside, and if I can’t access the internet or contact my customers, it has a huge impact on my business’ cashflow and my bottom line.”

Virgin Media O2’s commitment to rural connectivity 

With “The Great Rural Revival” report showing improving rural connectivity could unlock an extra £65.1 billion for the UK economy, Virgin Media O2 continues to deliver part of the UK Government’s Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme at pace, announcing earlier this year that it had further expanded its reliable 4G network to an additional 50 sites and secured planning consent for work at a further 100 sites.

While Virgin Media O2 is dedicating investment to enhance connectivity in rural areas and address signal not-spots, the company is calling on policy makers, planning authorities and landlords to agree rules that will make it faster and easier to provide the infrastructure needed to deliver vital connectivity improvements.

Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2 said “Small businesses are the cornerstone of the UK economy and are vitally important to rural communities. Our Great Rural Revival report demonstrates the transformational power improved connectivity could have for these rural small businesses. This is why we are committed to enhancing connectivity in these areas.

“To ensure the future of rural small businesses, we must establish greater collaboration with industry partners, the UK government, planning authorities and landowners to deliver the network upgrades that underpin reliable and fast connectivity for rural communities.”

Helen Morgan, MP for North Shropshire and Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Levelling up, Housing and Communities) said: “I have long argued that no business in the UK should be disadvantaged because of where they are based. Businesses in my constituency, as well as other rural areas, have previously been held back because of a lack of connectivity, so Virgin Media O2’s recent work to improve this situation in these communities is most welcome.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of many rural communities and this research demonstrates how much of an impact improved connectivity could have, by enabling businesses to become more efficient and improve their customer experience with digital technology. I welcome Virgin Media O2’s work in highlighting the potential for small businesses in my constituency and beyond, as well as the work they are doing to unlock this potential in the future.”


Economic research methodology

The backbone of the economic impact modelling was the survey, from which we could derive the difference of quality in rural and urban connectivity, and by how much turnover and employment could increase if rural businesses had excellent digital connectivity. We then scaled these results to the size of the 2022 UK economy. We presented two different sets of results: the effects on the rural economy if businesses had perfect connectivity, and the effects if they reached the urban level of connectivity. Results were further broken down by major UK region and industries. We also modelled the effects of having periods of complete loss of service, and how mitigating these could lead to further turnover increase. Lastly, we estimated how the availability of video calls at work can save employees time and how the lack of need to travel to conferences can increase productivity further.

Business polling methodology [research provided by Opinium]

The survey was conducted by Opinium and asked 1096 respondents with a decision-making role on tasks related to digital connectivity. The results were broken down by the industries in scope (agriculture, tourism, and manufacturing). The survey consisted of both quantitative questions to help generate the data required to model the impacts of improved digital connectivity, and qualitative questions to provide further insight into the challenges faced by rural businesses.

Consumer polling methodology [research provided by Strand Partners]

  • Strand Partners surveyed online 1,012 members of the UK General Public between 30.11.23 and 01.11.23, representative by age, gender and NUTS 1 region
  • Definition of rural, small business: these are questions are about rural, small businesses. These are businesses located in the countryside i.e. villages, which employ less than 50 people. Often, they will be sole traders or employ very few people.

Note to editors

  1. Excellent connectivity was defined as a score of ‘10’ for both fixed and mobile connectivity when survey respondents were asked to rate the quality of their connectivity. This was then used alongside questions around anticipated turnover and employment changes to calculate the impact to the rural economy as a whole.
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