The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of having easy access to technology.
In 2020, the world underwent a digital transformation at a quicker pace than ever before. It emphasised technology’s critical role in how we live. Suddenly, we were working remotely, running businesses from home, attending medical appointments online, and helping kids with online lessons.
This new digital transformation has changed the way people interact with work. People are looking for more flexible jobs which incorporate a hybrid, remote working approach. This has meant an exodus from cities to rural locations, as remote working allows business to be conducted in any part of the country.
But all of this exposed a digital divide between those who do have access to digital technologies and those in some rural communities who do not. This has been an unexpected advantage of the pandemic - it has called attention to rural communities, as people have become more reliant on connectivity to work and live.
The biggest task to incentivise more people to stay in or move to non-urban areas is investments in physical infrastructure, like high-speed broadband, in order to innovate and regenerate rural areas.
But what are these investments and connectivity plans which are aiming to revitalise rural towns and villages?
Rural broadband connectivity continues to be a challenge. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, 43pc of rural residents said that broadband was still a problem in their area. And since 33pc of Irish people are “much more likely” to work from home “at least some of the time” when the pandemic ends, broadband is a top priority in rural areas to connect rural communities.
One initiative which aims to address this urban/rural connectivity divide is the Government of Ireland’s Broadband Connection Points (BCPs) or ‘Connected Communities’ initiative. This initiative, in partnership with Vodafone and National Broadband Ireland, aims to connect rural areas to high-speed broadband, offering free internet access to the public. There are approximately 300 centres and locations in publicly accessible locations being provided with high-quality broadband that can be utilised by all members of the public for a range of purposes – whether it’s remote work or study hubs, delivery of eHealth and in-person health services, keeping in touch with family and friends, arts and culture activities or for a range of educational courses.
With the BCPs being located in community centres, sports clubs and other public spaces, people living in these areas can simply go to the location and access broadband for whatever their needs may be. These BCPs have become more critical now than ever before and have become a big part of connecting the local rural communities.
Having better rural connectivity can mean businesses are able to grow and connect to customers and suppliers all over the world, all without leaving their local community or their home.
For Kerry-based Rosemary O’Connor, who set up her business Killarney Organic in 2017, it was the arrival of reliable high-speed broadband to her area that paved the way for her internet-based beauty business to be born.
Powering her website, killarneyorganic.ie, is her Vodafone business broadband connection running into her home in Killarney.
“I couldn’t run the business without it,” says Rosemary. “My entire business is run off my laptop and it’s important to me that I have a reliable and fast connection that is always on and always ready to go. I take my orders in, print off my labels, and dispatch items to all parts of the world.”
Rosemary says her office technology makes her business viable in a way that’s hard to imagine without it.
“Throughout the pandemic, the brand has continued to grow largely because of internet sales and word-of-mouth spread digitally online. All of that has been facilitated by Vodafone.
“You physically can’t grow unless you hit the right audiences. I couldn’t really exist without our website, and it’s only been up for around a year, and already it’s performing strongly for us. It’s a whole business that has grown, basically, online.”
Vodafone has invested in many campaigns aiming for reliable connectivity for businesses and remote workers. Because many small-to-medium size businesses and start-ups in rural areas have difficulty finding professional, connected spaces for their business to grow, Vodafone in conjunction with SIRO created the Gigabit Hubs initiative.
These Gigabit Hubs or co-working digital spaces offer a range of services to individuals, start-ups, and established businesses. This includes access to conference rooms, and office space rentals for small-to-medium size businesses with access to broadband speeds of 1Gbps.
Those who want to work close to home now have the opportunity to free themselves from a long commute to bigger cities, as they have everything they need within the digital hub. Not only can this enable people to have a more flexible approach to their work, but it also helps broaden the appeal of rural communities to companies looking to relocate their companies outside of major cities.
One recent example of a digital hub is the PorterShed, a coworking office space, in Galway city.
As Galway’s first Gigabit Hub, it will also become the 17th hub to join the SIRO-Vodafone Gigabit Hub Initiative, a joint venture of ESB and Vodafone building Ireland’s first 100pc Fibre-To-The-Premise broadband network.
Due to an expansion of the PorterShed, it will add an additional 200 desks, bringing its total capacity to 330 desks overall with the creation of an additional 1,700 jobs by its member companies. This huge development will be supported by becoming a Gigabit Hub which will see both new premises receiving a high-quality Gigabit fibre broadband, ensuring that its member companies have fast and reliable broadband to ensure they have connectivity to suit all their business needs and continue to thrive.
Vodafone’s Gigabit Hubs can offer these working facilities, creating an answer to rural connectivity concerns for businesses.
With more and more people either staying in their rural homes or moving away from cities to rural areas, major companies are also seeing the benefits of basing their operations outside metropolitan areas or having digital workspaces in hubs across the country made available to their employees.
But in order to do this, they need state-of-the-art connectivity and technology to enable their business to grow and thrive. That’s where Vodafone Business comes in. No business can afford to have connectivity issues, so being able to manage their network using cloud technologies, and backed by Vodafone solutions like SD-WAN, makes everything easier. So no matter where a company is located, they can work seamlessly and fully connected.
Learn more about Vodafone's superfast, reliable broadband for businesses at the link below.