Improved rural connectivity to unlock £8.8 billion for British manufacturers

Virgin Media O2
Virgin Media O2
Natalie Clarkson
by Natalie Clarkson
27 November 2023

New research from Cebr for Virgin Media O2 has found that improved rural connectivity could increase turnover for rural manufacturing businesses by more than 7% – adding an extra £8.8 billion to the UK economy.

Many factories are located away from cities and urban areas – in fact, nearly half of all manufacturing jobs in the UK are located in rural areas. Recent data shows that the sector has been struggling due to the UK’s persistent productivity challenge, with the majority of manufacturers saying that they expect economic conditions in the UK to deteriorate.

However, technology has the power to help address some of the challenges faced by the UK manufacturing sector – for example, enabling greater automation to reduce human error and machine failure, or wearable technology that improves safety and effectiveness. But many of these new tools require high-quality connectivity that isn’t historically as available in rural areas.

Virgin Media O2 is committed to boosting connectivity in rural communities and tackling areas of bad signal. As part of the UK Government’s Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, earlier this year the company announced it had further expanded its reliable 4G network to an additional 50 sites and secured planning consent for work at a further 100 sites.

A factory in Derbyshire

Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2 said: “The manufacturing industry is key to the success of the UK economy, and our Great Rural Revival report demonstrates that improved connectivity can unlock an additional £8.8 billion of further growth for rural manufacturing, as well as increasing employment by almost 8%.

“The last decade has seen fixed and mobile networks rolled out to new corners of the UK and we are committed to continuing this rollout. By working closely with industry partners, the UK Government, planning authorities and landowners, we can deliver the essential network upgrades that will enable rural manufacturers to adopt new technologies and continue to thrive.”

Empowering UK manufacturers with better connectivity

Virgin Media O2’s work with British Sugar is an example of how manufacturers can use connectivity to boost efficiency and productivity. For almost two years, British Sugar has benefitted from the UK’s first multi-site 4G (and 5G ready) private network, spanning Norfolk, Suffolk and Nottinghamshire – a total operational area of 2.17 kilometres-squared.

This has supported the installation of multiple Internet of Things devices and the development of several ‘factory of the future’ use cases. These include optimising the production process, introducing AI to the factory to monitor operations in real time and predict downtime in advance, and enabling the use of cutting-edge robotics to streamline production even further.

While SRN upgrades continue to be delivered at pace, Virgin Media O2 is calling on policy makers, planning authorities and landlords to remove obstacles and ensure rural communities fulfil their potential. Specifically, the provider wants rules in place making it faster and easier to provide the infrastructure needed to deliver vital connectivity improvements.

Visit Virgin Media O2 to find out more.