What do our connectivity survey results tell us about Aberdeenshire?
You don’t know until you know. That’s where we came from ahead of the launch of our business broadband survey, which closed in January 2018. Having worked in Aberdeenshire for over 15 years, and with many of our team also living there, we could have taken an educated guess at the connectivity challenges which businesses in the north-east were experiencing. To be fair, we weren’t far off the mark, but thanks to those that took part, we now know for sure.
Restricting company growth
In terms of service quality, as suspected, Aberdeenshire is still the poor relation when compared to the city. These findings are in line the 2017 survey by the British Chamber of Commerce (BCC) which found that almost a quarter of UK small businesses are being held back by unreliable Internet connections, with 30% of rural companies of all sizes not receiving access to a stable connection, double the rate in towns.
This puts these businesses at a disadvantage on so many levels. In our survey, over 65% of Shire respondents believe that company growth is being restricted. Fast forward 3-5 years, and if action is not taken now, how much higher will this figure be?
Common responses to how business growth is being thwarted include these tangible limitations:
- Hampering geographical expansion
- Inability to access new technologies
- Failure to access company data remotely
- Confined to offline sales and not able to offer online sales
- Unable to offer customers quality wi-fi
- Social marketing restrictions - inability for customers to engage socially in real time
- Restrictions on employing flexible work practices
Again, these results mirror the BCC findings where 48 % of businesses said if the reliability of their broadband connection was improved it would allow them to use more applications, particularly cloud-based services, transfer of large files and remote server access for employees.
Service outage & back-up barriers
Drill down further into the results of our survey and dissatisfaction goes hand in hand with business vulnerability, sales loss and reputation damage. Only 30% of businesses are satisfied with their connection resilience and less than 40% with reliability. When you put this in the context that 70% describe service outage as disruptive or catastrophic to their business, the disastrous impact on bottom lines becomes abundantly clear. In addition, the threat continues, as only 30% have a back-up connection. This is a significant 50% lower than city-based businesses. Why is this? Over 60% cite install cost and no actual alternative for a back-up connection. Historically, dig costs associated with laying fibre over long distances have been prohibitive. With the launch of the Government Broadband scheme – which over 80% of respondents had not heard of – and our exclusive access to wireless services covering Aberdeenshire and Moray, these challenges are now being addressed and overcome.
Connection type and usage
Another significant contrast involves the type and use of connections. Where city businesses are more likely to utilise either full fibre, or fibre to the cabinet, over 50% of Shire businesses are subscribed to lower capacity, lower quality, traditional copper lines. This might explain why the proportion of Shire businesses accessing both voice and data services over broadband is 50% less than city counterparts. Being able to access cloud-based voice services brings clear cost savings in terms of hardware provision and call charges.
That brings us very nicely to hosting. Thirty-three per cent more city-based companies host data off site compared to firms in the Shire. This would suggest that on premises hosting negates the perceived risk associated with cloud services. But that can be a false economy too if options aren’t understood.
Attitudes to switching suppliers
Many would suggest that the world’s reliance on broadband means that the service should be promoted to utility status – much in the same way as we view electricity, gas and telephone provision. That of course would require transparency by both parties and for the barriers unearthed by our research to be addressed. In terms of changing broadband supplier, nearly 90% of respondents would consider doing so. Of the minority that wouldn’t or answered ‘maybe’, barriers to switching included:
• Lack of technical understanding
• Fear of service disruption
• Installation Cost
• No alternative
• Under Contract (a point to note here is that switching can often bring savings which cover the get out charges incurred by current contracts)
We have all witnessed the impact that the Internet has had on our lives. The role it plays in the future will not diminish, instead it will likely increase. It also has the potential to bolster rural economies by enabling small businesses that can – and others that have the potential to – sell online to be based outwith towns and cities. To be of benefit to everyone, all our communities need to be equipped with access to resilient, fast and affordable Internet connections. Technologies currently exist to deliver this and the government is providing incentives to help install some of them. Therefore, now is the time for Aberdeenshire business – and those elsewhere in the country – to consider the options that are available to them to ensure they remain the forefront of our constantly evolving information age.
If you’d like to discuss any aspect of our consultation or would appreciate advice on a specific challenge, then please get in touch. We’d be happy to help.