The UK’s digital future finds its home in the north

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Jeremy Wastie, Regional Director at MLL Telecom, takes a look at the UK fibre roll out on a regional basis.

London has been the driving force behind the UK’s booming technology industry, in fact, 45 of the UK’s 72 tech unicorns were created in London. However, the concentration of growth within the capital may be showing signs of slowing. Growing concerns around the cost of starting and running a business in London, coupled with a need for economic development across the rest of the country means the UK’s digital future could soon be finding a new home in the North.

Northern cities such as Manchester and Leeds have produced unicorns of their own and continue to achieve significant growth. Leeds, in particular, accounts for 22% of UK digital health jobs and had the fastest scale up growth in the North, greater even than Manchester, often dubbed the UK’s second city. This growth is expected to continue, which will promise a lot for both the region’s private and public sector organisations.

But while the UK’s tech sector shows a considerable amount of promise, the challenge it faces again comes down to connectivity. Until now the UK’s tech companies have done remarkably well with what they have. However, with political and economic uncertainty on the horizon, and continuously evolving technology requiring greater connectivity, the UK must have the necessary network infrastructure to meet with the growing demands of its burgeoning technology industry.

It must be full fibre

“Full fibre” networks now cover 10% of UK premises. In late 2019, the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, set the lofty goal of achieving gigabit speed fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) connectivity across the UK by 2025. While this is of course positive in its ambition, a plan to deliver it remains to be seen.

This promise recently received some watering-down, with politicians stating the government will deliver “gigabit capable” broadband to every UK home “as soon as possible”. The issue here is that “gigabit capable” does not mean full fibre or FTTP, but rather suggests many connections will still rely on a fibre copper hybrid. This is not enough.

The deployment of full fibre connectivity across the UK will be essential in continuing the great momentum the UK’s technology industry has shown in recent years. Most importantly though it will future proof network infrastructure to enable social and economic development across the UK—far beyond London.

Access to reliable, resilient and gigabit speed connectivity is no longer a “nice-to-have”, but a utility, almost as important as electricity or gas. If the UK’s technology industry is to continue prospering in the North, then FTTP connectivity will be the foundation for the development of northern tech hubs.

Investing in your future

The regeneration of the North has received significant attention over the past few years. Most recently, HS2 was given the go ahead, with its goal being to support the rebalancing of economies in the Midlands and the North. Equally, government initiatives like The Northern Powerhouse promises to deliver a “super-connected, globally-competitive northern economy”. While the government has acknowledged the need to overhaul critical network infrastructure, there will also be a need for some autonomy.

County councils and local authorities are in an ideal position to stimulate economic growth within their regions, by prioritizing investment in fibre networks, specifically FTTP connectivity. Not only will access to full fibre connectivity make these regions attractive areas for businesses to start up operations, it will also be instrumental in delivering the digital transformation ambitions for local businesses, schools and public sector organisations. Connectivity is an enabler that both private and public sector organisations should start viewing as a springboard to support their business function.

A purpose fit partner

Quite often however the issue for many organisations is how they obtain enhanced connectivity. Many have had their fingers burned in the past by large incumbent suppliers that cannot meet their needs or meet with shifting demands.

Harder still is that many are faced with a lack of clarity on the language used for network services, a particular challenge being broadband advertising. A number of suppliers tout superfast (>300Mbps) and ultrafast (>1Gbps) as market leading options for connectivity, but the truth is, the longevity of these types of connections will be short.

Future-proofed connectivity can only realistically be achieved by a full fibre connection that provides speeds in excess of a 1Gbps. But it’s not just about speed. The scalability of full fibre means organisations can continue to upgrade their networks and add a host of services over the top as and when needed. However, partnering with the right supplier that can offer a bespoke level of service, and demonstrate flexibility in delivery of services throughout the tenure of the contract is essential.

Fortunately, government-led frameworks such as the recent Crown Commercial Services RM3808 have simplified the procurement of network services for the public sector in particular. The framework has 91 accredited network service providers each offering competitive, market leading, cost effective efficient technologies along with more flexible contracts. Choosing the right partnership will prove instrumental for UK organisations looking to acquire connectivity services that can meet their current and future connectivity requirements.

As the UK’s technology industry continues to shift northwards, its success will weigh heavily on the appropriate underlying network infrastructure. The UK government, public and private sector organisations must plan accordingly and prioritise the deployment of full fibre; the right supplier partnership will be paramount for success. The North of the UK has a rich industrial history, and with the right connectivity, it will soon be at the forefront of Britain’s next industrial revolution.

 

Jeremy Wastie has 25 years’ experience working in the telecoms industry, with the past 13 years being focused on the UK public sector. Jeremy joined MLL Telecom in January 2018 having held roles at Siemens, Updata and Capita. Jerry has worked in areas ranging from Managed Network Connectivity through to Voice & Data Convergence, Educational Technology and Data Centre Services.  Jeremy understands the challenges that are faced by the Local Government and NHS communities, particularly in delivering “more for less”.

Connectivity in Scotland: Time to re-think the options

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Craig Scott, Business Development Director at MLL Telecom, looks at some of the challenges and opportunities around fibre north of the border.

There’s a connectivity sea-change happening in Scotland right now: Inhabitants are demanding to know why they must put up with sub-par broadband speeds and access, compared to those of their neighbours south of the border.

This was illustrated by the fallout from the recent news that Scottish premises have been deemed ineligible for the UK Government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO), despite contributing funding to the initiative. The USO pledges to deliver 10Mps broadband to 100 per cent of premises. According to Rural Economy and Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing “This is indicative of the UK Government’s approach to broadband rollout thus far which has been to ignore the needs of Scotland, particularly our rural areas.”

Connectivity represents both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity facing the country right now. Despite a large footprint of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC), local authorities and their inhabitants are still battling with bandwidth constraints and the availability of infrastructure.

Currently, the Scottish government is developing its “Reaching 100” (R100) programme, with the aspiration to deliver superfast broadband access to every single Scottish premises by 2021. This is in part to address concerns around a widening town-and-country divide, with rural communities fearing being left behind due to increasing reduction in services and poor connectivity for Scotland’s remote locations. Ewing himself launched the “Up Your Street” campaign to promote more take-up of the hybrid fibre FTTC/Cable fixed line broadband.

However, copper does not go far enough to solve Scotland’s connectivity crisis on its own. Fibre is needed for increased speed, more reliability, and better performance – and can deliver gigabit broadband speeds of up to 100Mbps, well above the 24Mps minimum definition of superfast broadband.

Yet currently, only 1% of Scotland is connected to full fibre. Although England – and the UK as a whole – doesn’t fare much better with a mere 3%. Local authorities in the country – both in urban and rural areas – need more fibre infrastructure to drive connectivity for businesses and residents. And in the meantime, they need connectivity partners that are the best fit to make use of the infrastructure that is available.

Recently some ambitious local authorities have begun viewing connectivity through a different lens, as part of a transformational solution that will have tangible political, economic, social benefit, as well as a technological one.

One example of this is the recent rethink of the Wide Area Network (WAN) procurement process in Stirling, which led to the city being announced as Scotland’s fourth Gigabit City in January 2017. By working in partnership with MLL Telecom and full-fibre infrastructure builder, CityFibre, Stirling Council deployed the first phase of a state-of-the-art new full- fibre infrastructure in March 2018, and the second phase in May 2018.

By providing virtually unlimited bandwidth via full fibre connectivity, CityFibre’s investment in Stirling offers benefits to the whole community. It enables Stirling Council to explore the e-learning potential offered by Gigabit connectivity in schools and libraries, while improving the use of digital and web-based tools and services for both staff and customers. With the second phase of the project extending the full fibre connectivity to business in the city, Stirling will also benefit economically through increased competition. The vastly improved infrastructure will attract new businesses, support growth among existing firms and create jobs.

The Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) is a wider public sector initiative that has gone some way to providing consistent connectivity options for the NHS and Local Authorities in Scotland. Announced in 2014, the nine-year contract is now in its fourth year. Organisations have the option to join the framework by 2020, with the last point to consume the services coming in 2023.

But the market has moved on. The combination of more full fibre providers like CityFibre making investments, new technologies such as 5G and SDWAN, and funding initiatives from the Department of Culture Media & Sport DCMS), is giving public sector organisations a window of opportunity to consider their options.

For many, it will be a chance to think about how they can do things differently, and how they can engage with alternative providers to deliver services in a more efficient and cost-effective way. It’s also a chance to consider the different applications and services that they will need to deliver connectivity in the future.

For those local authorities like Stirling that are looking for a partner, the procurement of WAN connectivity services is an opportunity to properly engage with suppliers, allowing prospective partners to understand unique requirements, and giving these partners the opportunity to shape the future. This allows local authorities to procure the technology and infrastructure that will suit their own needs, as well as gaining partners that are unconstrained by frameworks, have a deep customer understanding, flexible products, and better support.

As local authorities consider whether to stay or begin the move off the SWAN network, now is the time to be ambitious. That starts with thinking about new ways to deliver much-needed connectivity infrastructure cost effectively that will also provide benefit in to the local communities in Scotland.

 

Craig ScottAs a Business Development Director, Craig is responsible for identifying and developing relationships, securing new Public Sector business opportunities and delivering sales growth for MLL in Scotland and the North. Craig has been involved in the IT and Telecommunications Sector for over 20 years, working in a variety of Business Development and Client Management roles across both the Public and Private Sectors. Craig is adept in consultative sales, problem solving and customer service, and is passionate about developing and maintaining close working relationships with our clients.

Stirling gets a spoonful of CityFibre

MLL Telecom and CityFibre have announced a new partnership to deliver gigabit fibre connections to local businesses over a new fibre network being built by the latter.

The new offering, FibreConnect, was announced during Stirling Business Week, and will build on initiatives made by the city to become more agile and increase productivity by embracing technologies such as cloud computing software, high quality video conferencing and smart office appliances. The CityFibre fibre network currently spans 24km from Bannockburn to the Stirling Agricultural centre.

The FibreConnect offer provides Internet access at speeds of 100Mbps, 500Mbps and 1000Mbps as either a monitored or fully managed service, with the promise of zero buffering. The men and women of Stirling can search for as many Haggis recipes as their hearts desire.

“Stirling is a city with big ambitions and its 3000-strong business community is no different,” said Jeremy Wastie, Head of New Business, Public Sector at MLL Telecom. “We are excited to be a driving force in aiding the city’s entrepreneurial business growth. Our ultrafast FibreConnect services will give local businesses the much-needed connectivity speeds to boost productivity and create new jobs that will ultimately benefit the entire community.”

“Full fibre is the gold standard in digital connectivity and a ‘must have’ foundation for growth and development in the digital age,” said James McClafferty, Head of regional development at CityFibre. “This makes it an especially vital asset for thriving cities like Stirling, which is ambitious to become a hotbed for digital innovation, new start-ups and business growth.”

“Businesses in Stirling have been crying out for greater digital infrastructure that can support their ambitious growth plans for some time,” said Gordon Bell, CEO of local business support organisation, STEP. “It’s very exciting to hear that ‘Gigabit City’ status will put Stirling ahead of the game in the UK for connectivity, allowing these businesses to not only grow but to take their business to the next level.”

Stirling has been receiving a fair bit of attention recently after Vodafone continued the rollout of its Gigabit broadband services in the city. Stirling is now the seventh of twelve cities to benefit from the Vodafone and CityFibre challenge to the traditional broadband players.