The Internet is now something we hold in our hands. Not literally, perhaps, but certainly most of us these days have a means of getting on to it that is small enough to fit comfortably in the pocket. And a pretty small pocket at that.
And more and more of us are doing just that – an estimated 32.6 million of us in the UK last year, in fact. No longer do we have to wait until we get home to post that tweet the world is waiting for. Early ads for online banking had Robbie Coltrane extolling the virtues of managing your finances in the middle of the night. Nowadays many of us can do it not just at any time, but anywhere. Inside or out.
The technology is complex, of course, but the principle is easy to understand. Tens of millions of us are getting used to having internet access wherever we go and whenever we want it. Better yet, next generation mobile broadband – 4G – will provide people with far faster Internet access from their smartphones and tablets.
Some may ask why we need high-speed mobile Internet access, but it’s absolutely crucial to the country’s future as well as how we now expect to lead our daily lives. It means investment and growth for the UK economy, which we all know is so vital. Technology is constantly evolving and we need to be ready for the future. Remember when we were all happy with dial-up, and we stared in wonder at that select few who had mobile phones, albeit the size of cereal packets?
There is a clear demand for this technology – more than five million iPhone 5s were sold in the first weekend they were available. 4G services will make a real difference to the UK economy and to people’s lives. Ofcom are ensuring that nearly all of the UK will be covered by 4G, and we expect 4G to be worth as much as £3 billion to the UK economy.
So there is no doubt in my mind. The UK needs 4G for economic growth and to meet public demand. We cannot afford to delay its introduction – we need it as soon as possible.
That is why we have worked tirelessly over the past months to find ways to speed up the roll-out of comprehensive next generation mobile broadband services. And I’m pleased to report that we have succeeded thanks to a great deal of work and co-operation between the Government, Ofcom, mobile network operators, Digital UK, TV broadcasters, and others.
Mobile operators will be able to roll-out 4G services to the vast majority of the UK in the first half of next year, about six months earlier than previously estimated. By speeding up the delivery of 4G, the Government is creating enormous opportunities and delivering a real benefit to the UK economy.
I met with the four main mobile operators – EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone – this week and the meeting dispelled any fears of litigation. This agreement is hugely to their credit, and will greatly benefit us all.
Businesses are reliant on the nation’s infrastructure for success. Way back when, that meant canals, then it was trains, then roads. Now it means broadband cables and mobile phone coverage.
That is why the Government is committed to providing the UK with the digital infrastructure we need.
We are investing £530 million to take superfast broadband to rural areas that would otherwise be left behind. We are using £150 million to create around 20 ‘super-connected cities’ that will be able to compete with the world’s top digital cities. And we are investing £150 million in extending basic mobile coverage.
The UK has embraced the Internet like few other nations. We spend more per head online than any other G20 country. The ball is rolling and it is essential that we keep up the momentum, giving individuals and businesses what they want and expect. This week’s agreement to speed up 4G roll-out is excellent news for the UK economy, and a real step forward in giving us as a nation the potential to grow through technology, innovation and creativity.