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West Sussex UK Moot County-Wide 1Gbps Fibre Optic Broadband Roll-out

Friday, October 14th, 2016 (8:34 am) by Mark Jackson (Score 1,087)
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The West Sussex County Council has proposed a new “Gigabit West Sussex” framework that will shortly start seeking suppliers to help it “bring ultrafast [FTTP/H broadband] to as many parts of the County as possible,” starting with a contract to deploy a new Dark Fibre network in Adur & Worthing.

Delivering Gigabit (1Gbps+) capable infrastructure is already a priority under the local authority’s “Surf’s Up” action plan, which the council views as being a useful tool for improving business / council productivity. Not to mention attracting investment from new sectors (creative, technology and manufacturing) and boosting income from business rates.

As part of that the new Gigabit West Sussex framework has been proposed, which at present is at least partly an aspirational strategy and one that has not yet conducted either a risk assessment or a full examination of the required funding.

WSCC Joint Strategic Committee Statement

Ultrafast (or gigabit) broadband is rapidly becoming critical strategic infrastructure. It is the next generation of connectivity, capable of delivering speeds of 1Gb (1000Mb) using pure optical fibre, 100 faster than the UK average. West Sussex and Adur & Worthing Councils are working to bring ultrafast to as many parts of the County as possible, and this report outlines progress to date, and seeks support for the next steps in the project.

Ultrafast is a big step-change on from “superfast”, requiring new infrastructure using optical fibre end-to-end. Superfast is typically delivered through a “Fibre to the Cabinet” (FTTC) approach, leaving the “last mile” running through slower legacy copper infrastructure.

Copper sections introduce a particular problem with upload speeds which are so important for businesses (i.e. sending large files out). It may be a surprise to some that a typical upload speed for a “superfast” premise receiving 30Mb with a “copper pair” to the cabinet is just 5Mb , a striking comparison to the 1000Mb delivered with ultrafast.

High speed connectivity is now recognised as cornerstone of the Government’s Productivity Plan 2015, but the challenge for cities and towns is how to make their own way in delivering this new infrastructure, with current national strategy and initiatives falling well short.

Crucially there’s a lot of talk in the official strategy document about building a network across the whole county, although underneath that spin sits a much more familiar strategy. Initially the council would become an anchor tenant for the new fibre network to connect its own sites, which they say could later be “extended to connect businesses and homes over time.”

The model being proposed is of course exactly the same approach as Cityfibre have been using in larger towns and smaller cities across the United Kingdom (the document even uses that example), which does indeed work reasonably well for public sector sites and business.

But extending this model outside of dense urban areas isn’t so easy (i.e. expensive and takes a long time), even though exploring how the network could be expanded into “less dense urban and rural areas” is listed as one of the objectives.

Likewise it would probably require a major ISP partner to reach local homes, which has recently been tried with Sky Broadband and TalkTalk in York, but that was a commercial experiment and its future beyond York is very uncertain. There’s also a risk that BT and Virgin Media might also raise a few overbuilding concerns in some areas if public funding were used.

However, for the time being the council is clearly focused more on the Dark Fibre side of things for public sector sites and businesses. The first call off from the framework will be Adur & Worthing. This is a network design covering Worthing/Lancing/Shoreham that connects all WSCC and Adur & Worthing local authority sites and CCTV in the geography.

WSCC Joint Strategic Committee Statement

The Gigabit West Sussex project will create a procurement framework accessible to all districts and boroughs, where dark fibre infrastructure can be procured to deliver 1Gb minimum speeds for all local authority and CCTV sites in dense urban geographies. The procurement process will also explore how a supplier might develop options for building dark fibre infrastructure in less dense urban and rural areas, potentially through strategic partnership with infrastructure providers operating in those market segments.

The respective local authorities have already conducted a market engagement day and this week’s new strategy announcement reflects the positive feedback from that event, which we believe was attended by Cityfibre and a number of other operators.

A bid was also developed over the summer by Adur & Worthing Councils to the Coastal Communities Fund. This was for £1.2m, which included a request for support with project costs, and a £1m fund for supporting business to connect to the ultrafast fibre network, based on an anticipated network extension of 20km. A decision is imminent at the time of writing.

It is anticipated that following the securing of project funding, procurement will commence in November or December 2016 and then run through to February 2017. The plan suggests that construction could then begin in Adur & Worthing during Spring 2017 and it’s envisaged that this could take 12 months to complete (i.e. the first phase of connecting local authority sites).

After that the strategy proposes that the supplier could move on to connecting businesses through 2018-2019 on a commercial basis. The project would then “work to identify further district councils that wished to join the project, building a programme of implementations across the county“.

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7 Responses
  1. Great article and a great initiative on the part of West Sussex. It’s right to say that it is similar to the CityFibre approach and that it’s been easy for them to develop a plan on dense urban areas. Truth is, the approach CAN translate to Rural as well and has been done in the past, predating CityFibre. Public Sector Anchor Tenancy in Rural was at the heart of NYNET, which we established in 2006. With a core fibre network justified by public sector spend and terminating in every school, council building etc you can cost-effectivley apply NGA access from that ‘digital village pump’- if the authority assist by looking differently at the market. ITS id successfuly adopting this approach already in our rurla digital cluster networks.

    • MikeW

      I was also thinking about NYNET as an example suited to rural areas, rather than CityFibre.

      It is interesting that, as NYNET has run SFNY, the “digital village pump” as a core NGA access point hasn’t quite happened. While the FTTC cabinets do partially fill that role (in giving NGA connectivity via copper), they don’t quite offer the ability to connect fibre in the access network – though a co-located aggregation node would do that IFF decent FoD happens.

      There is definitely room for different models in the gigabit world … but I think the BDUK-subsidised deployment of BT aggregation nodes will have changed the marketplace from the time that NYNET started up.

    • MikeW

      Incidentally, I found this old presentation from Nynet/David…
      http://www.slideshare.net/INCA_NextGen/david-cullen-inca-seminar-n-ynet-slides-3

      It relates to the founding days of SFNY (then known as “Connecting North Yorkshire”), and its creation as one of the BDUK pilots.

      Slide 14 makes reference to the high-speed hubs that are meant to offer backhaul connectivity, which I guess are the “digital village pumps”. I’ve certainly seen that modern-day SFNY want to allow community efforts to continue … but I haven’t seen these hubs mentioned much.

    • TheFacts

      A ‘digital village pump’ was a term invented a while ago with no detailed explanation. It seemed to mean free/cheap backhaul to some unspecified location.

  2. Tom Bartlett

    More money spent on overbuilding the south coast. How is gigabit justifiable when Chichester is still only 85% superfast?

    • MikeW

      While the operational guys are still running ongoing projects, the strategic guys need to be planning for what comes next.

    • Mike

      A lot of coverage issues seem to be from failure to get wayleave agreements from property owners.

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