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UK wi-fi connectivity is inadequate

The UKFast panel discussion may have started with the official subject: the digital wallet. But it rapidly evolved into what government needs to do to make it a practical reality in an improving economy: “Government intervention to boost the country’s connectivity is crucial if the UK is to stand a chance of competing economically with the likes of Scandinavia and Japan.”

The main problem is that mobile commerce, including the concept of the digital wallet, is overtaking desktop-based e-commerce at least for the consumer market. Most of the panel believe that wi-fi connectivity in the UK is simply not good enough. Hosein Moghaddas, chief business officer at Mobile Money Network said: “The Government has an inherent responsibility to get us all connected with high-speed wi-fi and that means investment in infrastructure. I believe we should be lobbying government for this. It should be a given.”

The route out of recession is often simply to get people to spend more money. This spreads down the supply chain until the whole economy comes back to life. But the panel generally feels that poor national wi-fi connectivity is making it more difficult than necessary for consumers to spend. Jennifer Hiley, senior account director for We Love Mobile, thinks the digital wallet is a good development, but one stymied by connectivity. “The digital wallet is all about convenience for consumers,” she said. “Whatever we can do to make everything easier to buy is good.” But she gave the lack of connectivity on the London Underground as a typical problem. “We need to be able to browse the internet on the underground,” she added, “and we are getting closer to being able to do that – but we need to make progress quickly.”

Ronnie Brown, managing partner of digital marketing agency, Quirk, was a slightly dissenting voice. He thinks that connectivity is not the main barrier to the growth of the digital wallet or the digital economy. “Connectivity in most UK urban areas is OK,” he said. The bigger problems are the ‘inertia of existing human behavior and trust’. “Both will be eroded over time,” he said. “But the government could take the lead and ensure that wi-fi and other types of connectivity are available widely and cheaply. This would help stimulate the economy per se and encourage more innovation in the sector.”

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