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

Northern cities such as Manchester and Leeds have produced unicorns of their own and continue to achieve significant growth.

Guest author

March 9, 2020

5 Min Read
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-150x150.jpgJeremy 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”.

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