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With the Covid-19 outbreak making businesses of all sizes more reliant than ever on reliable broadband networks, research from Community Fibre has found that inadequate internet access is costing firms money and opportunity, even in London and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular.
The study, conducted with market research specialist 3Gem, surveyed 500 London SMEs that would be typical customers of the full-fibre broadband provider, control of which was recently taken by private equity firm Warburg Pincus and specialist tech investment management group DTCP. In the sample, 87% were either key decision-makers or jointly responsible for decision-making.
It found that 86% of London SMEs now need broadband connection to operate successfully, yet 85% did not know how fast their broadband speed needed to be for their business to thrive.
Community Fibre also found huge growth in the number of daily internet users in the UK, which has increased by 70% in the last 10 years. Three-fifths of SMEs indicated that high broadband speed and quality were more critical for their business operations than a functioning supply chain (52%) or financial support (54%), while physical offices were deemed the least critical of the assets in the survey (40%).
Despite the imperative of broadband connectivity to SMEs, the survey revealed a gap in knowledge of the best-quality broadband for each business. Indeed, 85% did not know how fast their broadband speed needed to be for their organisation to thrive, and one-fifth of businesses did not know what speed their broadband was.
Looking at the specific effects of Covid-19, more than two-fifths of SMEs said inadequate broadband access at work had cost their business money since the outbreak. Worse, almost three-quarters (71%) of London SMEs had had to, at least partially, close their business premises because of coronavirus and only two-fifths were able to transition to a fully online business model.
More than one-third (35%) of SMEs were not able to transition their business fully to an online model since the pandemic started and one-third were obliged to upgrade their broadband connection during Covid-19 because of inadequate speed/connection.
At the same time, two-thirds of SMEs were trusting employees to work from home permanently since Covid-19 struck. Only 11% of SMEs did not trust their staff to work from home permanently, and 25% of SMEs have not yet decided whether to return to having physical premises again post-coronavirus.
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Community Fibre also found that researching broadband quality will now be a priority and switching to better broadband will positively impact London’s SMEs. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of SMEs said they would investigate their bandwidth quality as a priority once business returns to normal. Slightly more firms said they would look into the fastest broadband connection available, and 77% will, or are looking to, switch.
The survey comes 20 years after the UK’s first broadband connection, and Community Fibre CEO Graeme Oxby said the pandemic had highlighted just how critical broadband infrastructure is to SMEs.
“Almost half of SMEs (49%) find poor broadband connection has a negative impact on employee wellbeing and the majority (62%) say they need better bandwidth connections at where they work to facilitate the increasing demand of video-conference calls,” he said. “Evidently, employers coming out of this pandemic will need to ensure their office space, and employees working from home, are adequately set up with affordable broadband to ensure reliable and fast internet connection, to power the economic recovery.”