By David Armstrong, CEO, b4b Group

You can say what you like about the state of Northern Ireland infrastructure – or the lack of it – but there’s one thing we are definitely getting right and that’s the ever improving shape of rural broadband provision.

It’s good news for householders – especially for families with everyone competing for bandwidth across multiple devices at the same time – but it is also incredibly important for businesses in countryside locations, representing the very backbone of our economy.

I don’t think it’s appreciated just how well we’re provided for however.

In its annual Connected Nations report, industry watchdog Ofcom provides an overview on the availability of broadband and mobile services across the UK regions.

For both full-fibre provision and gigabit-capable broadband, Northern Ireland is far and away the best connected region.

The 2022 edition showed an incredible 87 per cent of all premises could access fibre broadband capable of at least a gigabit including 65 per cent of those in rural areas. By comparison, just 37 per cent of businesses and homes in countryside locations across the UK enjoyed the same level of access.

The figure will only improve yet further with Fibrus, which is leading the drive to bring hyperfast fibre connections to previously unreached locations recently marked a significant milestone, delivering the network to its 250,000th premises.

The rollout is transforming businesses and communities as their access to high-speed coincides with the rise in remote work, e-commerce and digital transformation.

For businesses, hyperfast fibre internet can significantly increase their productivity and efficiency, opening up access to cloud-based tools and enabling collaboration with colleagues in real-time, regardless of location for example.

They’re also vastly improving their customer service by being able to provide faster response times and better online support.

For community life also, the social cohesion enabled by better access to internet cannot be underestimated, ensuring people continue to live – and work – in rural settings, which in turn is good for the local economy in those locations.

Having access to hyperfast internet is only part of the story. Businesses must also ensure they are fully geared up to leverage the opportunity in terms of having advanced IT systems and technology in place as well as the right people using them.

As a result, there’s no reason why a high-tech company  can’t operate at the cutting edge whilst located in a rural setting, far from any city or town centre. This is an incredibly important development as we seek to maintain community life and reduce the need for those living in the countryside to face long commutes for high-skilled work.

How refreshing it is to see Northern Ireland at the top of an infrastructure table for once – long may it continue.