Overwhelming Demand for Full Fibre Networks in North Wales at DBF Conference
Deeside Business Forum’s February fibre connectivity-themed conference saw one of our largest attendance turnouts. The event, our biggest yet, was dedicated to showcasing and making the case for full fibre networks in North Wales.
DBF Chair Askar Sheibani opened proceedings, noting the diversity of the speakers from Welsh and UK Government, local authorities, non-profit organisations and key telecommunication organisations, and thanked the multiple sponsors that helped to make the event possible.
Rt. Hon DBF President Lord Barry Jones PC
The Rt. Hon Lord Barry Jones PC, President of DBF warned the audience that North Wales won’t see investment and business growth without the investment in digital, and that “China is awakening from its slumbers”.
The former local Alyn & Deeside MP, who served the constituency for over three decades, said that we should aim for gigabit-speed connectivity right across North Wales.
Cllr Mark Prichard, Leader of Wrexham Council
Leader of Wrexham Council, Cllr Mark Pritchard paid tribute to Wrexham and the partnerships through the Mersey Dee Alliance as well as the North Wales Economic Ambition Board. Naming key international companies like Kellogg’s, JCB and those from the emerging professional and business services sectors like Money Penny, the Development Bank of Wales and Chetwood Financial, the councillor made a strong case for investing in the area.
He also said Wrexham Council are “…keen to develop the communications infrastructure within Wrexham and across all of North Wales” and “must act now to meet demand”.
Ian Lucas, MP for Wrexham
Wrexham MP Ian Lucas outlined the current progress in achieving full fibre for Wrexham but urged more must be done to achieve our collective goal.
Mr Lucas, member of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) select committee said, “Within Wrexham, we are fortunate enough within the town itself to be having investment from Virgin Media but what we need is a digital offer that extends right across North Wales.”
“It’s our responsibility to build on the investment we are now getting, some from the private sector to secure more public investment in our area and to ensure that the talents we have within our country… have the infrastructure there to enable them [young people] to blossom, to prosper and to make progress in their lives.
“We did an intensive report between 2015 and 2017, which went into a lot of detail about broadband infrastructure in the UK. The extraordinary thing about this sector is that already out-of-date. David Cameron made an announcement to universal broadband after the 2015 general election for 10Mbits, which we all know is insufficient to meet the needs of the people we represent.”
Hannah Blythyn AM, Welsh Minister for Environment
The Welsh Minister for the Environment, Hannah Blythyn AM explained that improving productivity is one of the biggest challenges facing North Wales and its economy and that the Welsh Government as part of its economic plan is investing to help bring about reliable and fast broadband to every property in Wales.
She praised the Superfast Cymru project that works with the private sector to deploy superfast broadband to buildings that aren’t able to receive it through currently existing commercial programmes, particularly in rural areas.
As a result, they are seeing a transformation. New businesses are forming and communities are better connected. Since the project began, the availability of superfast broadband has more than doubled.
The Assembly member for Delyn notes, however, that the work has not yet finished, and that work continues with increasing bandwidth requirements. The Welsh Government has invited suppliers to tender for the successive scheme to Superfast Cymru with innovative solutions that emphasise rural connectivity delivery to provide remote businesses with speeds of 100Mbps.
Jack Sargeant AM
Newly elected Jack Sargeant, Assembly Member for Alyn & Deeside, expressed his support for the campaign, saying that there are benefits not just for Wales but also the UK and that the return on this type of investment is incredible.
He said that he was pleased to see that the event has brought together key stakeholders from the Welsh and UK governments to discuss the importance of digital connectivity. However, he did say that we have a “long way to go” to ensure our infrastructure is fit for the ever-changing world.
Justin Leese, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS)
Justin Leese, Director for Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN), part of the UK government’s department of DCMS, provided an educational look at both the need for full fibre networks but also what the government is doing to meet these needs around the UK.
He highlighted the bandwidth increases year-on-year even without new technologies by 25% and that 71% of internet traffic is segmented to video on-demand services. He stressed the internet doesn’t stand still, having seen video go from standard definition to high definition (HD) and now 4K is emerging in popularity. However, manufacturers are now beginning to demonstrate 8K televisions, which is four times the bandwidth of 4K or 16 times the bandwidth over HD. In addition, he also highlighted businesses are now hosting their software, some mission critical, within the cloud, adding to bottlenecks.
On waiting for demand to increase, he said, “Do we really need full fibre? Is the demand really there? The point is that if we wait for the demand, we’ll be back to square one where we were with the superfast programme in catch up.”
Mr Leese provided attendees with several projects Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) have been involved with to aid idea generation in finding a solution for North Wales. Details of these can be found from the presentation link shown at the end of this article.
During our dedicated session on case studies, three private-sector and one non-profit supplied us with examples of how fibre networks can help meet the needs of businesses and communities.
Tom Rigg, Head of Networking for social enterprise and non-profit B4RN, showed how they believe simple point-to-point networks and one single package to be the answer rather than build and replace when demand increases. He also outlined how they work with local people, some of which are also trained to look after the network.
Andy Hudson, CNO of Aquacomms, sketched the history and application of submarine networks, cables that need to be placed in the ocean to provide connectivity between continents. He gave the example of Denmark with low cost cooling and low tax of datacentres that could serve as a model in Wales.
Part of CityFibre’s Public Sector Team, Martin Kemp demonstrated several case studies of networks CityFibre helped to build including Coventry, York, Edinburgh and Southend. He noted that in the next few weeks, they are to release an economic report that examines the impact of full fibre networks, based on cities in the US. That report is expected to show a 1.1% GDP rise, which although may not sound substantial, is equivalent to £120 billion for the top 100 cities.
Next was Pinacl’s Technical Director Aladair Rettie. He advocated fibre in that it is flexible, scalable and reliable whereas traditional copper is less so and is more affected by weather conditions. He went on to say that with dark fibre, a fibre optic connectivity solution, it can offer potentially limitless bandwidth as the equipment becomes the limiting factor as used in wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) networks. He presented his vision for North Wales by designing a network backbone for the region.
After the four presenters provided their examples, attendees had an opportunity to ask them questions in a panel-style debate.
Three different skill-tiered workshops offered participants the chance to further their understanding of networking from entry-level to advanced. Leading the entry-level workshop was James Saunby from the North Wales Economic Ambition Board. For the intermediate and advanced sessions, Stephen Pegrum and John Mitchell of Sorrento Networks provided their expertise, respectively.
Dale Weedman, FibreSpeed
Speaking as both Business Development Manager for FibreSpeed and a North Walaian, Dale Weedman’s presentation focused on North Wales being a great place to invest. He showed a glimpse of what can happen with even just a small amount of better connectivity; the datacentre in St. Asaph has brought both business and jobs to North Wales.
James Saunby, North Wales Economic Ambition Board
Founder and Consulting Director of GreySky Consulting, James Saunby presented his analysis on how North Wales could achieve a full fibre and digital transformation. His analysis went into not just advanced manufacturing but also tourism and health and social care.
“For the energy cluster and advanced manufacturing, we talked to some of the businesses on that and they were very much talking about gigabit broadband.”
He also explained that although leased lines are a potential solution for some, they are too expensive for them to utilise but require something more than fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), the latest generation of superfast broadband for most residences.
Askar Sheibani, Deeside Business Forum
Askar Sheibani again paid special thanks to all attendees, speakers and sponsors for helping to make the event such a success.
Following the event, lunch and networking opportunities were available to attendees before the event drew to a close.
|Alasdair Rettie, Pinacl||View|
|Andy Hudson, Aquacomms||View|
|Dale Weedman, FibreSpeed||View|
|ITS Technology Group||View|
|Justin Leese, DCMS||View|