BT helping to shape Northern Ireland’s economic and digital future

CEO of BT’s Enterprise Division, Gerry McQuade, outlines the group’s position at the heart of the local economy.

At the start of another new year at BT Group, we are looking forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead to drive economic and digital growth in what continues to be a rapidly changing business environment.

Our purpose is to use the power of communications to make a better world and this drives our desire to support our customers and UK plc to grow and thrive.

BT has been at the heart of the business community in Northern Ireland for decades and we continue to be one of the largest investors and employers in the region. BT Group recently announced the results of an independent report by Hatch Regeneris, ‘The Economic Impact of BT Group plc in the UK,’ showing that we currently employ 6,980 full-time staff in Northern Ireland through BT’s direct employment, its spending with contractors and suppliers and the spending of its employees.

As a Group, BT has contributed a £592 million GVA (Gross Value Added) boost to the Northern Ireland economy in the financial year 2017/18, which is £1 in every £65 of GVA created in the nation. We have also spent £154 million with local suppliers, recognising the quality of the people and the support we gain from all our partners. We remain committed to ensuring that a thriving BT generates a more positive outcome for all across Northern Ireland.

Leaders in digital innovation and investment

We are also playing our part in re-imagining Northern Ireland’s digital future and for many years we have been at the forefront of innovation and investment in our local network infrastructure. Working in collaboration with colleagues in the public and private sector continues to be key to our success in the marketplace.

With the digital economy expanding at an exponential rate, technology is constantly transforming how people and organisations connect and interact. At the forefront of technological innovation, BT continuously invests in ever more innovative and efficient digital and mobile solutions which deliver best-value for money for our customers. We all share the same digital challenges and at BT, we can help Northern Ireland get better connected.

Having secured the nine-year, multi-million pound Northern Ireland Public Sector Shared Network (NI PSSN) contract from the Department of Finance (DoF) in December 2018, we will be working with the public sector to help them to connect and deliver services on a scale never seen before. The new network will include 11 government departments, bringing the opportunity to digitally transform public services in Northern Ireland.

To deliver this major contract, we are providing state-of-the-art network and Unified Communication (UC) services, along with fully managed services and world-class network security. Using high-spec, innovative hardware and software, combined with cutting-edge network security services, we are excited to be working with the public sector and the potential benefits of this partnership are limitless. These could include more digital access to public services online in areas such as healthcare, which will ultimately aim to make life easier for public sector employees. We want to future-proof the public sector and redesign the local digital landscape, while also helping to deliver Northern Ireland’s Programme for Government.

BT, with support from Invest Northern Ireland and in collaboration with Ulster University, has also invested more than £28 million in an innovation centre in Belfast, which is playing a crucial role in our global research and development capability. It is focused on advancing research into the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data analytics for customer experience, as well as cyber security and the latest 5G mobile technology.

Our extensive programme of research and development will be key to the success of the innovation centre. Invest Northern Ireland is supporting our global £510 million R&D programme and our centre is working with Ulster University on joint research, which will see the creation of 25 new university posts, alongside up to 50 new graduate roles, as we continue to foster the next generation of business talent in Northern Ireland.

“Having secured the nine-year, multi-million pound Northern Ireland Public Sector Shared Network (NI PSSN) contract from the Department of Finance (DoF) in December 2018, we will be working with the public sector to help them to connect and deliver services on a scale never seen before.”

This year, we’re also proud that Belfast has been chosen as one of 16 cities across the UK where EE will launch the first phase of their 5G roll out. Part of the BT Group, EE is launching this technology in Belfast where our 5G services for businesses will focus initially on providing even faster speeds and more capacity, delivering a better mobile experience for our customers. Over time however, 5G will support a new generation of converged applications with truly seamless connectivity across fixed, Wi-Fi and cellular technologies. This will allow our customers to switch instantly, seamlessly and securely between networks so that they benefit from the best possible connection, whenever or wherever they are.

5G is also the first generation of mobile technology that caters for the need of IoT devices, supporting large volumes of data. This will significantly transform our customers’ businesses and operations. A large number of our customers across the transport, logistics, retail and utilities sectors have IoT projects underway. We are supporting them to understand how best to leverage our existing 4G network as well as future 5G networks.

Bringing this latest technology to Belfast will further enhance the city’s credentials as a place to live, visit and do business in, supporting our digital strategy, investment in fibre networks, and the plans in the recently announced Belfast City Region Deal to create smart districts. This will support Belfast’s growing competitive advantages in connectivity and the knowledge economy.

We can’t do this alone however, and to be a true trailblazer, it will take the combined efforts of our partners in the public sector, academia and industry to make this vision a reality.

Re-imagining the future of the high street

We believe passionately that by connecting people, great things happen, so we’re really pleased that we are launching the InLinkUK from BT service in Belfast this year too, making technology more accessible to everyone who lives and works in Belfast. The InLinkUK service offers people the chance to benefit from free ultrafast Wi-Fi and phone calls and we hope will also encourage trade back onto the high street. The new state of the art phone boxes will replace existing payphones, offering ultra-modern InLinkUK units, decluttering the high street and making it a more appealing place for shoppers. Each InLinkUK offers more space on pavements, as on average, one unit replaces two BT payphones.

We are excited at the possibility of being able to offer these benefits in the coming months to help continue to make Belfast one of the UK’s most digitally connected cities.

The InLinkUK service is already transforming high streets across Britain, removing unwanted payphones and giving streets a modern facelift with our compact and free of charge Wi-Fi and digital services.

In addition to this development, we have also recently launched a new initiative offering communities the rare opportunity to ‘adopt’ their local phone box for just £1. With a large number of people in Northern Ireland now using a mobile phone, usage of unused payphones has declined by around 90 per cent in the past decade. The ‘Adopt a Kiosk’ scheme allows communities to find new uses for kiosks to benefit local people by creating business ventures such mini-libraries, coffee shops, miniature art museums and information centres.

Leading change and economic growth

Whether it’s helping to transform communities through our public sector contracts, connecting businesses of all shapes and sizes or installing the latest mobile technology for the future, we’re at the core of Northern Ireland’s future. We’ll continue to listen and collaborate with organisations and communities so that the region, and everyone who lives and works here, reaps the social and economic benefits of being at the forefront of the digital revolution.

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