Improved rural connectivity could unlock £8.8bn for British manufacturers

Image: British Sugar

Ahead of the CBI Industrial Trends survey and today’s Autumn Statement where Jeremy Hunt is likely to reference £4.5 billion investment into British manufacturing, new research from Cebr for Virgin Media O2 finds that improved rural connectivity could increase turnover for rural manufacturing by over 7%.

The analysis examines the role improved connectivity could play in supporting economic growth and transforming rural industries.  Many factories are located away from cities and urban areas, with nearly half of manufacturing jobs located in rural areas.

Recent output data shows the sector has been struggling due to the UK’s persistent productivity challenge, with the majority of manufacturers saying they expect economic conditions in the UK to either significantly or moderately deteriorate.  

Virgin Media O2’s ‘The Great Rural Revival Report’, which is based on economic modelling from Cebr, finds improved rural connectivity could boost the UK economy by £65.1 billion and increase employment by 6.8%. Of the four major economic sectors analysed for their potential to benefit from improved rural connectivity, manufacturing could expect the greatest rise in turnover and highest relative rise in employment.  

Around one in six rural manufacturing business decision makers surveyed as part of the report said they would make greater use of technologies such as remote stock checking/inventory management and fleet management technology. 

Virgin Media O2 claims its work with British Sugar is an example of how manufacturers can use connectivity to boost efficiency and productivity. For almost two years, British Sugar has benefitted from the UK’s first multi-site 4G (and 5G ready) private network, spanning Norfolk, Suffolk and Nottinghamshire – a total operational area of 2.17km2.  

This has supported the installation of multiple IoT (Internet of Things) devices and the development of several ‘factory of the future’ use cases. These include optimising the production process, introducing AI to the factory to monitor operations in real-time and predict downtime in advance, as well as enabling the use of cutting-edge robotics to streamline production even further.  

As part of the UK Government’s Shared Rural Network (SRN) programme, earlier this year Virgin Media O2 announced it had further expanded its reliable 4G network to an additional 50 sites and secured planning consent for work at a further 100 sites.  

Says Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2:

 “The manufacturing industry is key to the success of the UK economy, and our Great Rural Revival report demonstrates that improved connectivity can unlock an additional £8.8 billion of further growth for rural manufacturing, as well as increasing employment by almost 8%. 

“The last decade has seen fixed and mobile networks rolled out to new corners of the UK and we are committed to continuing this rollout. By working closely with industry partners, the UK Government, planning authorities and landowners, we can deliver the essential network upgrades that will enable rural manufacturers to adopt new technologies and continue to thrive.” 


Chris Price
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