Once again, the limited growth that UK retail is seeing is coming from mobile. The good news is that a good chunk of it is coming from overseas. The bad news is that, while we are a nation of online – and mobile – shoppers, the infrastructure to deliver it to people is sadly not there.
According to the latest assessment of broadband infrastructure from Cable.co.uk, the UK currently ranks 31st in the world in terms of broadband speed – behind 19 other European countries.
The average connection in the UK sits at 16.51MB/s, whereas the top European country, Sweden, enjoys a mean speed of 40.16MB/s, in second position overall behind the booming business hub of Singapore (55.13MB/s).
We may well be seeing a 77% increase in mobile traffic to UK retailers from Estonia, but all such gains are for nought if, when they arrive on UK broadband networks, the service is so slow the experience they get is awful.
This has long been a growing problem for both domestic ecommerce traffic and that from overseas. In fact it has been something that has dogged e- and m-commerce for more than a decade: what can be delivered has grown in sophistication and richness, but the networks aren’t there to cope with it.
Mobile operators have, to be fair, invested in upgrading the wireless networks to handle 4G and soon 5G. But they too rely on the fixed broadband network in the ground to then connect their masts to the internet – an operation known as backhaul – and so, poorly performing fixed line broadband networks in the UK affect all ecommerce technology.
On the tenth anniversary of the last financial crash – it was ten years ago today that someone at PNB Parisbas bank noticed that there might be a problem with US sub-prime mortgages – it isn’t perhaps surprising that things are in such a parlous state. Investment has stagnated thanks to ‘austerity’ and with the UK economy stagnating once again, thanks to Brexit uncertainty/lunacy, our roads, our transport, our housing, our healthcare, policing, and social care are all starting to crumble.
Now we can add telecoms infrastructure to that list.
And ecommerce is going to pay the price. Sadly, ecommerce is one of the few things keeping us afloat. Lack of investment in the basic backbone technology that we need to function in the internet age is essential. While we seem to be trapped in a cycle of thinking that Britain still ‘Rules the waves’ we are slowly losing our place in the world.
Summer is meant to be the silly season – I should be writing about powering your phone with solar powered pants. Instead, I find myself drawn to watching us sink slowly into the murky channel. Unless we see proper investment in our infrastructure, we will see other countries one by one leapfrog our place as a leader in ecommerce in Europe and the world, hampered not by lack of vision by retailers, nor lack of demand from consumers, but by failure to invest in the things that make the internet actually tick.
May be we need to take back control of some of the tangible things that are wrong with UK plc, rather than chasing lies and shadows?