The Black Country Chamber of Commerce are calling for investment in infrastructure to support the announcements relating to making the UK as 5G ready as soon as possible. This follows the report from the National Infrastructure Commission that has been published on mobile connectivity. The UK is currently 54th in the world for 4G availability and in rural areas 3% of the population do not have any coverage outside their homes (complete not-spots), whilst 25% do not have coverage offered by all the main mobile networks (partial not-spots).

Corin Crane, Chief Executive of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce, commented: “The Chamber’s business leaders have ranked the need for first class broadband and connectivity as one of the most important drivers of increased productivity, and that the potential of 5G is huge – but it also requires a huge increase in infrastructure investment to make sure it has the type of coverage that 4G just didn’t get. We’ll work with Local Authorities and LEPs to lobby government and network providers to make sure this happens and to help emphasise that a better connected Midlands leads to a more productive country.”

Infrastructure is key to Black Country businesses and investment in broadband and 5G is a vital part of this. Black Country businesses are calling on download speeds to be significantly enhanced to at least 30Mbps and are raising awareness of the potential compatibility issues of upgrading to IPv6. This is important to businesses as connectivity is so important and as a region we need to make sure our digital infrastructure is suited to the needs of modern day business operations.

Broadband will also have an impact on transport strategy, with it increasingly becoming a core component for facilitating the regional, national and international competitiveness. However, data on the broadband rollout in the Black Country is partial and there are concerns that the national scheme is falling behind schedule and lagging behind global competitors.

Paul Forrest, West Midlands Economic Forum, commented: “Broadband internet connectivity will play an increasing role in business activities in the future, especially with the advent of intelligent manufacturing, in particular through the internet of things. Thus, comprehensive investment in broadband connectivity is vital for future competitiveness in the Black Country and the wider region, and to catch up with other countries already ahead. The UK is ranked 54th in the world for 4G availability, and 19th for average download speeds; at 14.9Mbps it is significantly below global leader South Korea’s average speed of 29Mbps. While the global leader Singapore has peak download speeds of 146.9Mbps, the UK only reaches a peak of 69Mbps, ranking 28th globally. Provision must also be provided for long term investment proposals; for example, the latest internet protocol version IPv6 (which is rapidly being introduced globally) may not be compatible with IPv4 without additional compatibility investment, so plans must be made to avoid the UK becoming obsolete in the global broadband network.”

The Black Country Chamber of Commerce are working on a campaign for 2017 that will explore key issues relating to transport and infrastructure in more detail and then take action to support Black Country businesses moving forward.