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Accelerating Economic Recovery Through 5G Connectivity After COVID-19

Iqbal Singh Bedi

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Economic Recovery

Iqbal Singh Bedi, Director at Intelligens Consulting, and economist Gordon Welsh explore how accelerating connectivity actions could be the key to economic recovery after COVID-19.

Zoom! An unremarked irony of the coronavirus pandemic is that Zoom has become its defining term at the very moment that the world has stopped.

Yet this highlights how critical connectivity has become: without the working from home, online transactions and banking, social connections, information and entertainment the pandemic’s impact would have been far greater.

Connectivity has been a frontline ally in combating the virus’s effects and deserves greater recognition for this.

Hopefully, our present will soon be past raising the question: if connectivity has been critical in mitigating ill effects, does it have a role in generating a swifter recovery?

The potential prize is immense as a quicker recovery can save jobs, lower public debt by billions and, critically, show firms and households that there is hope, vital to fresh investment and growth.

Speed of action is important and must also be seen to avoid hysteresis, where weakness becomes persistent, as indebted firms abandon investment, lose competitiveness and workers’ skills erode.

The ultimate infrastructural goals are well understood – pervasive fibre married with a 5G framework resulting in future smart cities. Delivering this requires major investment which is properly progressed through a competition and regulation framework, complemented by fair procurement or intervention where public funds address a market failure.

Creating such intervention strategies to drive investment in fibre and 5G can take many years to be considered ‘shovel ready’; and by this stage end-users still have not been connected nor have they directly benefited.

What this means is that an intervention based on the approach of the past will hold back short-term economic recovery.

The challenge is then how the rollout of fibre and 5G might be accelerated to bring the economic benefits forward.

There are several ways this can be achieved. Foremost is ‘Barrier Busting’, as championed by Glasgow City Council. Our familiarity with Glasgow’s digital programme has given us insight into the difference that barrier-busting can make in shortening timescales and de-risking investment.

Glasgow is solving now the generic and localised planning procedures, business processes, market interfaces, regulatory and other issues that will otherwise be ‘sand in the gears’ halting the rollout of fibre, 5G and smart cities.

The supply chain can be invigorated by this, creating new growth and supporting other firms and economic activity generally through knock-on effects and multipliers.

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Delivery of improved connectivity then unleashes opportunity and innovation, while also mitigating effects from any re-occurrence of the virus. ‘Greener’ ways of working can be encouraged, and the environmental benefits shared.

All this should be done with an emphasis on supporting those facing a greater challenge and the more vulnerable, delivering fairness alongside growth. A well-connected world will be different; this is the chance to ensure it is a better one, for all, as well.

A recovery that is faster, better, stronger and fairer. Planning now that enables economic recovery to be as sharp as the decline – producing a ‘v’ shaped recession – can pay for itself thousands of times over, make investment more achievable and avoid saddling future generations with an onerous debt burden.

Action now is thus imperative. But who will take up the challenge?

Iqbal Singh Bedi

Independent Technology & Telecoms Industry Advisor

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