How To Improve A Council Digital Strategy
Are you interested in improving your council's digital strategy?
In this blog post, we will explore the wide range of benefits that you can unlock by mapping the mobile networks in your council, including:
1. Driving network improvements
2. Improving your local authorities' organisational capabilities
3. Empowering your residents & businesses to use the best networks available
Questions We Answer
- Why is connectivity & a strong digital strategy important for councils?
- How can mobile coverage insights drive network improvements for councils?
- How can mobile coverage insights improve council operations?
- How do mobile network insights empower local residents & businesses?
- Where can my council get independent mobile coverage insights for its digital strategy?
Why is Connectivity & a Strong Digital Strategy Important for Councils?
Digital connectivity is as necessary for a developed society as any other utility. Without this resource, your communication with friends and family is delayed. Your decision-making with colleagues is postponed. Your ability to participate in online marketplaces vanishes. You lose access to having the world's information at your fingertips.
With the current roll-out of new digital technologies such as 5G and full-fibre networks, many social and economic benefits are being unlocked across the UK.
Findings from the Broadband Stakeholder Group reveal how your council will profit from the uptake of these technologies:
- Your council will see business numbers rise by up to 3.2%. By attracting start-ups and digitally dependent businesses.
- Employee productivity will rise by up to 3.8% in your council. Through improved communication channels and access to new markets.
- Your council's employment levels will rise by up to 1.7%. By facilitating the creation of new jobs and aiding in retaining old ones.
- Social inclusion will rise in your local authority. Through better connecting the victims of social isolation to external support networks.
These economic benefits also have the knock-on effect of raising your council's ability to deliver essential services better. With more businesses and workers attracted to the area, council tax and business rate contributions will increase, enabling further investment in service delivery.
The Mobile Connectivity Problem in your Digital Strategy
The problem is that councils have generally been less able to shape & understand the mobile connectivity half of the coverage equation, limiting advancement to full-fibre networks only. This lack of involvement foregoes significant benefits for your council and residents. The GSM Association has shown that, on average, a 10% increase in mobile adoption will drive a 1% rise in GDP. Putting this into perspective for the UK, a mere 10% increase in higher adoption rates can add £27 billion to the UK economy. However, mobile adoption cannot increase in areas with no coverage. With Ofcom showing that around 8% of the UK is still not covered with 4G by any operator, there remains much room for improvement .
The Mobile Connectivity Solution for your Digital Strategy
So how can you help unlock all the benefits of mobile network connectivity in your role?
To solve a problem, you must first be able to see it. For mobile coverage, this means physically mapping the mobile network coverage (2G, 3G, 4G & 5G) in the areas your residents work, live, and visit. Without an accurate picture and understanding of how the networks perform over time, you cannot improve your decision-making and network coverage.
Doing so allows you to tap into a wide range of exciting new opportunities and benefits, including the ability to:
1. Drive network improvements
2. Improve your local authorities' organisational capabilities
3. Empower your residents & businesses to use the best networks available
Let's break these benefits down & discuss how your local authority can unlock them.
How Can Mobile Coverage Insights Drive Network Improvements for Councils?
Offering Publicly Owned Assets for Deployments
Your council can improve mobile connectivity by offering public assets to mobile network operators (MNOs) to host base stations and masts. Publicly owned assets can include buildings, land, and street furniture. This offering helps the MNOs deliver new mobile infrastructure more quickly and cheaply.
One of the most significant barriers the MNOs face when improving their networks is the process of organising site access agreements with landowners. These leases give the operators the legal rights to deploy & maintain their infrastructure (such as masts) on land they don't own.
MNOs find that 80% of site access negotiations take more than six months, with the average agreement taking 11 months. Many landowners are unresponsive to approaches, while a third of talks stall - usually due to landowners demanding high payments to sign the agreements.
These factors are roadblocks to delivering new or better connectivity for residents, visitors, and businesses. However, your council is well placed to solve this problem by following the lead of other councils.
In 2018, Norfolk County Council conducted a 'drive study' to map reception across 3,500 miles of A, B & C roads. Gaps in mobile coverage were corresponded with the locations of 200 public buildings capable of hosting mast infrastructure. Norfolk Council then offered suitable assets in coverage 'not-spots' with site access agreements free of charge to the operators. These offers, coupled with a streamlined planning process that helped fast track installations, facilitated coverage improvements for all four major MNOs. These operators include EE, Vodafone, Three, and O2.
Following the same process, you can streamline the deployment process for the operators. The coverage data assures them that a deployment will fill a coverage hole and allow them to access new customers. Negotiations are also reduced in length, and no compensatory fee is paid for access to the sites, boosting the economic case for deployment.
The result? New infrastructure is drawn into your council. Coverage improves. The local economy benefits.
Improved Network Configuration
While new mast and cell site infrastructure can facilitate improvements, mobile coverage is also affected by the signal power, frequency bands, and direction of transmissions.
MNOs constantly balance the need to cover vast geographical areas with connectivity while ensuring that users have fast download and upload speeds. This balance is achieved by choosing the frequency bands they transmit over.
Transmissions over low-frequency bands such as Band 20 (800 MHz) can cover large distances but suffer in their ability to deliver fast speeds or high capacity. Alternatively, transmissions over high-frequency bands such as Band 1 (2100 MHz) can offer much higher capacity and speeds, but these signals attenuate (weaken) over longer distances. Mobile networks are generally configured to use high-frequency bands in cities & low-frequency bands in rural areas.
Accurate mobile network insights can be used collaboratively between your council & MNOs to improve network configurations & score easy wins. These insights allow MNOs to improve coverage by using more suitable frequency bands or increasing cell tower transmission power and making directional adjustments. Optimising these factors is a proven method and results in an enhanced user experience of the four mobile networks - Norfolk County Council has demonstrated this to good effect.
How Can Mobile Coverage Insights Improve Council Operations?
Mobile coverage insights can also help deliver council operations more efficiently and cost-effectively. We highlight some of the advantages below.
Informing Planning Authorities
As the demand for social and affordable homes continues to rise, planning authorities must identify candidate sites to build on. Often these are identified and laid out in a council's local development plan (LDP). When developing LDPs, planning authorities can use mobile coverage data to assess the suitability of a site from a digital connectivity perspective. A survey of UK residents showed that 54% of people would be put off buying a home if the mobile coverage at the property was poor.
Planning departments can also use mobile coverage data for the planning approval process. Residents often find masts an eyesore and resist new developments. Planning authorities can use mobile coverage data to manage resistance and conflict by demonstrating the need for such deployments.
Health & Care Services
Mobile coverage insights can also help your council deliver care to elderly residents. With the average yearly residential care home costs per resident now standing at £31,200 a year, it pays for your council to keep residents out of care for as long as possible.
To reduce this financial liability, many councils are turning to telehealth (telecare) technologies that enable the unwell, disabled, or elderly to receive care at home so that they can live independently.
Many service providers now allow patients to perform healthcare tests and contact health professionals through technologies they are familiar with, such as TV sets. Not only do these solution keep patients out of care homes, but they also reduce the need for costly in-person visits.
However, many telehealth solutions rely on mobile networks to relay data between patients and healthcare professionals. To ensure this healthcare delivery remains continuous, you can use mobile network information to help identify the MNO most suited to provide an undisrupted connection for each patient's home.
Managing Phone Contracts
When it is time to review and procure phone contacts for council employees, having a map of the mobile networks (which compares operators in your council with each other) is helpful for the decision-making process. You can be sure you provide the best connectivity in the places they live, work, and travel.
Mobile coverage insights will save your council money if the network offering the best coverage is cheaper than other offerings. After all, a more expensive mobile contract doesn't necessarily equate to better user experience.
Events come in all shapes and sizes, from rural town markets to large-scale shows and festivals. These special occasions present a unique opportunity to bring communities together, showcase local businesses and drive tourist trade into an area. However, enormous challenges are faced by the visitors and vendors when mobile coverage and capacity are unable to cope with the demands of the visitor influx.
Poor coverage can spell disaster to local businesses operating at these events as many are dependent on mobile card readers to collect payments. With less than 46% of Brits regularly using cash for payments, an event site unconnected to mobile networks can prevent thousands of transactions between visitors and retailers.
Poor mobile coverage also has the additional drawback of dampening the exposure of an event, with visitors and businesses unable to live stream or post updates throughout the day on social media. A lack of connectivity can damage multi-day events that rely on social media to bring in their next-day visitors.
These factors can combine to undermine a visitor's experience and dramatically reduce footfall at future iterations. Your council can use mobile network insights to help ensure the sites are held where visitors and businesses remain constantly connected. Suppose poor connectivity affects an event that can't change location. In that case, your council can justifiably lease temporary masts to ensure people receive mobile coverage on the day(s) the event takes place.
IoT Planning Activities
Mobile coverage data can inform you which cellular networks to use for your council's IoT applications.
The Internet of Things is a large connection of sensors and technology that gathers data to enable people to make smarter decisions that deliver better outcomes. Councils such as Norfolk and West Oxfordshire are already pioneering IoT use cases for local authorities. Low complexity use cases include sensors:
- That measure footfall in important tourist and shopping areas to optimise income generation for local businesses
- Installed in street lighting to detect failures, inform maintenance teams, and improve fault response times to reduce crime
- Installed on roads to detect ice conditions and deploy gritters more effectively to priority areas
- Installed in social housing to allow preventative maintenance by detecting temperature & humidity conditions that could cause dampness or mould
- To detect when public rubbish bins are full to optimise waste collection schedules & drive down service delivery costs.
For these sensors to stay connected to the core network, IoT applications require a wireless connection. With the phasing out of the UK's 2G and 3G networks, many IoT applications are switching to broadband IoT (4G/5G). In 2021, Ericsson stated that broadband IoT overtook 2G & 3G as the technology segment that allows the lion's share of cellular IoT applications.
Mobile network insights can help you understand which cellular network will best meet the need for your IoT applications. These insights save your council time and money as you avoid using a provider that performs poorly.
Public Transport Planning
Mobile coverage insights can help you optimise your council's public transport offering.
The expensive burden of subsidising underutilised bus routes is a painful & familiar problem for many councils. With the UK's councils facing a £3 billion shortfall in funding, your local authority is likely to seek alternative methods of fulfilling its statutory obligations to fund socially necessary bus services, such as by implementing demand-responsive travel.
Demand responsive travel utilises smartphones and GPS-based technology to allow people to pre-book shared trips in a minibus. These vehicles follow roughly set routes but can deviate to pick up residents at their desired location (such as houses) when needed.
Resultantly, difficult and dangerous journeys to bus stops don't need to be taken by the elderly or disabled. The more agile system also allows smaller and fewer vehicles to be utilised during off-peak travel times, saving councils fuel costs and reducing CO2 emissions.
To make demand responsive transport a success, residents need access to dependable mobile networks to communicate pick-up locations and timings with drivers. Your council can use mobile network insights to evaluate where residents may be unable to use demand-responsive travel services. Resultantly, you can highlight areas in need of network improvements, or where a switch to an alternative carrier is needed for users of these services.
How Do Mobile Network Insights Empower Your Local Residents & Businesses?
Benefits to Local Businesses
According to the ONS, 32.7% of employees rely on 'portable devices' (phones) their employers provide for work. Business owners can often find themselves shelling out large amounts of money on 12, 18 & 24 month contracts that don't keep their employees connected if the service provider they choose can't cover their offices and commuting routes.
These issues cause real world problems for businesses in your council:
- 45% of small businesses suffer from unreliable voice connectivity
- 26% of businesses have lost sales due to connectivity issues
- 32% of businesses find that connectivity issues affect their ability to communicate with customers
With mobile coverage insights, your council can help local business owners make the best decisions for connecting their employees. This data empowers them to focus their time and money on doing what they do best for your council: creating value for their customers and employing residents.
Benefits to Local Residents
Residents stand to gain the most from accurate access to mobile coverage insights. Mobile phone uptake among the UK's population now stands at 78%. For an average council with around 200,000 residents, there will subsequently be approximately 156,000 residents who regularly use a mobile phone. However, according to Choose about 10% of EE, Vodafone, O2 & Three's customers are dissatisfied with their service.
This equates to around 15,600 people per council not getting the connection they need to work effectively, stay in touch with their loved ones, and access the services that they depend on. With average mobile phone contracts equating to £566.40 a year, a medium-sized council will see its residents spend a total of more than £8.8 million a year on mobile phone contracts that don't meet their connectivity needs.
Mobile connectivity insights can provide the necessary remedy for this issue, leading to your residents' choosing networks that meet their needs and ensuring they sign the right contracts.
Now that we have seen all the benefits mobile network insights can bring, there is only one more question to be asked.
Where Can My Council Get Independent Mobile Coverage Insights for its Digital Strategy?
Look no further than Streetwave.
Streetwave empowers councils to visualise and understand mobile coverage consistently through time. When the performance of a mobile network changes, Streetwave's data will change, keeping your local authority up-to-speed with digital connectivity changes.
Streetwave removes the complexity of understanding mobile network architecture and visualises what a user can do on a network at different locations in an easy-to-understand map. These insights allow you to understand service availability such as:
1. Can I make a phone call?
2. Can I browse the web?
3. Can I perform HD video streaming?