Belfast Telegraph

The importance of connectivity can't be overstressed


Belfast is one of just six UK cities to feature on the prestigious Mercer global Quality of Living City list
Belfast is one of just six UK cities to feature on the prestigious Mercer global Quality of Living City list

By Rob Orr, Virgin Media Business @vmbusiness

Belfast is just one of six UK cities to rank on the prestigious Mercer global Quality of Living City list, having recently moved up four places to 64th, ahead of Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Dubai.

The ranking criteria define the best cities as "well connected with communication and transport infrastructures", highlighting just how important connectivity is to 21st century life.

In fact, connectivity is so important that it is now deemed a human right by the UN - alongside clean water, free education and accessible healthcare.

On the face of it, this is hard to believe. But without internet access, much of modern society would come to a halt.

According to RootMetrics, Belfast is the UK's best city for mobile connectivity and residents benefit from the widespread availability of ultrafast broadband.

But how does connectivity play in creating a healthy, happy city?

First and foremost, ultrafast connectivity supports a never-ending stream of funny cat videos, internet memes, Netflix binges and social media chatter. Trivial?

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Scientists say not: research from the Indiana University of Bloomington found that after watching cat videos, people were more energetic and positive, and felt less negative emotions such as anxiety, annoyance and sadness.

Everyday online activities keep us smiling, sharing and help us feel closer to family and friends.

By helping people keep in touch, connectivity is helping us tackle the loneliness epidemic and build connections that really matter.

The online world provides accessible meeting places and allows people to build feelings of value and self-worth through connections with others.

This matters: according to the Campaign to End Loneliness lacking social connections is as damaging to our health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and research carried out by scientists at UCL found that older people with a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their lives lived significantly longer than those without.

That's not the only way connectivity is keeping us healthy: hundreds of millions of connected devices are already tracking our steps, heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs to help keep us fit and encourage healthy lifestyles.

And in parts of the UK, innovative technology now allows stroke patients to receive virtual consultations with expert physicians 24 hours a day - regardless of where the consultant is located. Secure and reliable ultrafast connectivity is delivering better care, faster treatment and saving hundreds of lives, all while making best use of scarce resources.

Thinking more broadly, the internet unlocks new opportunities for learning and personal development.

Connectivity makes it possible for people to access a wide variety of courses, learn new and potentially life-changing skills, or study for a degree from the comfort of their own homes at their own pace.

Queen's University now offers online courses in everything from food supply chains to studio production, helping ensure we have the skills to thrive in a digital world.

Improved connectivity transforms opportunities for businesses, too. In today's global economy, companies compete on a scale never seen before.

Whether that means using a website as a virtual shop window, setting up a digital marketing agency or researching and contacting prospective partners and clients around the world, every business, regardless of its size, can now reach a global audience with nothing more than a steady internet connection.

No matter where they are located, modern technology is connecting businesses with customers, creating new possibilities to excel.

Belfast City Council's 2035 Vision seeks to provide top-notch connectivity to make the city a hub for start-ups.

This goal should be applauded. A thriving business community means a prospering city which creates jobs, opportunities and improvements to the quality of life of its inhabitants.

As we look to the future, we need to ask ourselves how can we continue to harness the power of connectivity to make our lives better? And where better to start than with Belfast's streets?

We are in the dawn of smart cities, where the infrastructure around us is increasingly connected and communicating with us.

In the smart city of tomorrow, we'll know when the next bus or train will arrive before we leave our house.

Sensors in the streets will tell us where the nearest parking space is and as we drive there, the traffic lights will be optimised in real-time to minimise delays.

Smart city projects are developing in almost every major city across the globe, and Belfast can't afford to be left behind.

Connectivity will empower us in more ways than ever but we can't rest on our laurels; this bright future relies on continued investment in leading digital connectivity.

Let's continue investing in our infrastructure and rise up through the Quality of Life index as we make Belfast one of the best places in the world to live, work and visit.

Rob Orr is executive director of commercial marketing, Virgin Media Business

Belfast Telegraph