Big Tech billions will transform the places we live, work and dream

Big Tech billions will transform the places we live, work and dream

By Natalie Duffield

Big Tech is making big bets that will determine the future of place, the environments where we live, work and dream. The sums devoted to research and development are quite mind boggling: in 2020, Amazon spent $42bn on ‘technology and content’, while Alphabet invested $27bn in R&D; Huawei $22bn; Microsoft $19bn; Apple $18bn; Samsung $18bn and Facebook $18bn, according to analysis published by Nasdaq.

Of course, not all of this investment will pay off. But some undoubtedly will and the resulting products and services could transform life as we know it.

The future is coming… sooner than you think

The possibilities are virtually boundless. Realistic holographs; digital twins that track your health; virtual reality universes; bionic eyes; energy-storing bricks; sweat-powered smartwatches; self-healing concrete and living robots are just some of the emerging technologies currently in development, according to the BBC Science Focus website, which predicts “the future is coming, and sooner than you think”.

Actually, I’m with the science fiction writer William Gibson who famously pronounced “the future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet”. To prove my point, look at Ofcom’s latest Connected Nations report which reveals that only two thirds of UK homes are able to access gigabit-capable broadband and nearly 100,000 households are unable to get any decent broadband at all. While much progress has been made in infrastructure investment, there are still too many places with restricted access to the digital world.

Enabling enterprise and entrepreneurship

Users of gigabit-capable broadband have reported improvements in efficiency and reliability and talk of their service as being “seamless” and “a lifeline”, a government study has found. Such connectivity also opens up the awesome potential of cloud computing and makes powerful new applications – once the preserve of only the very largest companies – widely available to SMEs, enabling enterprise and entrepreneurship, wherever they might be located.

At the other end of the scale, the effects of digital exclusion are sadly all too well understood. The Good Things Foundation charity lists poorer health outcomes and a lower life expectancy, increased loneliness and social isolation, less access to jobs and education, paying more for essentials, financial exclusion, a higher risk of experiencing poverty and a lack of voice and visibility.

Britain’s first wireless gigabit service

At WeLink Communications, we are doing our bit to bring ultrafast connectivity to previously excluded areas. We have launched Britain’s first major wireless gigabit service in Edinburgh, bringing lightning fast speeds to the city centre without having to dig up streets in a World Heritage Site. The Scottish capital is home to more than 6,200 premises unable to access broadband at 30 megabits per second, the minimum requirement for cloud-based services such as video conferencing.

With Big Tech continuing to pump the equivalent of a medium-sized country’s GDP into emerging technologies, the future of place holds enormous potential for progress in the way we live and work. I dream of a day when we can all enjoy equal access to those products and services so the benefits can be fairly shared – in every corner of the UK.

Natalie Duffield is CEO of WeLink Communications, a gigabit-capable wireless broadband provider, and vice chair of techUK’s Local Public Services Committee