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Manchester is thriving as the UK’s largest tech cluster outside of London, but local tech businesses and startups are crying out for improved broadband connectivity to boost the city’s economy, according to a new YouGov study commissioned by digital connectivity rating scheme WiredScore.
WiredScore’s report found that just under three-quarters of northern tech pros felt confident in the city’s economy, with a large pool of local talent, generally good transport links, industrial heritage and commercial property prices all helping to make Manchester more attractive to tech businesses.
While confidence in the quality of local broadband connections was relatively high, a significant minority of respondents – just under 40% – said improved broadband connectivity would make Manchester even more attractive to IT companies, and 10% thought poor connectivity was damaging the city’s reputation and gave a poor impression to potential investors.
Broadband was not the only issue identified by those interviewed for the study. Others cited a need for more affordable office space, inflexible tenancies and leases, and a lack of shared office space, as potential problems facing Manchester’s tech scene.
“Manchester has long been a hub of innovation in this country, and has gone from being the heart of industrial revolution to a centre of Britain’s digital evolution,” said WiredScore UK director William Newton. “However, and certainly post-Brexit, no British city can rest on its laurels and must continuously look to future growth.”
WiredScore, which is already operating in London, commissioned the report to mark the beginning of its work in Manchester. It has teamed up with a number of property agents and landlords to help them make needed improvements to their properties’ connectivity infrastructure.
The firm said the commercial property sector had a critical role to play in helping to send a message that Manchester was a good place to start a tech business.
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Manchester City Council chief executive Howard Bernstein said it was vital for the public and private sector to work together to ensure local businesses had both the opportunity and resources to reach their full potential, and connectivity was a crucial element of that.
Manchester is currently running a smart city project called CityVerve, which is aimed at improving services for city residents using internet of things (IoT) networks and new technology, with £10m in funding support from a joint government and Innovate UK smart city contest.
Some of the applications being explored include talking bus stops – bus stops reconfigured with location-based services, sensors and beacons, mobile apps and intelligent digital signage – with the aim of enabling people check in to a bus stop and let the operator know they are waiting.
There is also a biometric sensor network to improve responses to patients with chronic respiratory conditions, set up smart lighting systems, run an IoT-enabled bike sharing scheme and monitor air quality.
The project is also exploring how to bring down the barriers to successfully apply IoT technology in a smart city, including governance, security and data compliance, user trust, replicability, scalability and return on investment.