BT celebrates its 180th birthday but CEO Gavin Patterson says the collaborative aspect of R&D could be under threat from Brexit
BT celebrated its 180th birthday this week by promising to continue to solve the world’s communications challenges by investing in research and development (R&D) but has warned Brexit could affect future innovations.
Speaking at the firm’s Adastral Park R&D facility near Ipswich in Suffolk, CEO Gavin Patterson reeled off a list of the firm’s achievements before revealing new developments in fixed networks, mobile and cybersecurity.
“One hundred and eighty years ago today a scientist and entrepreneur Charles Wheatstone and William Fothergill Cooke filed a patent for an invention called a five needle telegraph,” he said. “The same guys founded the Electric Telegraph Company and we are founded on this.”
“We’ve applied science and tech to solve the biggest challenges in communication ever since.”
BT claims to be the UK’s third largest investor in R&D and the second largest in the telecoms sector (after Japan’s NTT), with more than £2.5 billion spent over the past five years. It also recruits significant numbers of graduates and apprentices, while it is involved in numerous education initiatives.
But Patterson stressed that companies that look inward for innovation would struggle and that’s why it’s looked to develop a tech cluster at Adastral Park.
Alongside 3,000 BT staff are 100 employees at other companies like Cisco, Intel and Nokia as well as startups such as Coderus, who BT worked with to deliver the team application for BAR Land Rover’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to win the 2017 America’s Cup.
“History shows that companies who just look inwards often miss out on real gamechangers,” he declared. “Innovation happens within an ecosystem.
“[R&D] is a big risk for Brexit. Our R&D continues to be world leading, our universities are among the best in the world, and this is critical to the way we run the business. But research is a collaborative experience. [Tech firms need to be able to get the best researchers and funding.
“The UK does extraordinarily well out of the current [EU] funding models because our uiniversities are so strong.”
Brexit has loomed large over the UK tech industry and the result of last week’s General Election has hardly made the picture of what a post-EU UK would look like any clearer.
“If [the political climate] was unstable and uncertain last week, it’s gone up a notch now,” said Patterson.