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Vodafone Spot 50+ Digital Super Towns Ripe for “Full Fibre” and 4G Investment

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017 (1:22 pm) - Score 1,707

Mobile and broadband provider Vodafone has published a new study that claims to have identified 50+ towns and cities across England that have “digital potential just waiting to be unlocked,” provided they can fully exploit their digital resources to drive economic growth.

The ‘Digital Super Towns‘ research, which was conducted by Tech City, focused on towns and cities across England with populations of over 40,000 and probed three factors that are deemed “critical to the UK’s future as a digital leader” (i.e. digital skills, digital economy (software companies etc.) and of course digital infrastructure (4G and Fibre coverage etc.).

According to the report, digital tech industries already generate £161 billion of turnover for the UK economy and more could be found by establishing Digital Enterprise Zones in order to help “local companies and communities fulfill their digital potential.” Naturally Vodafone has provided a few “suggestions” for the types of policy initiatives that such zones could implement.

As usual we’re only going to focus on the digital infrastructure side of things.

Enhancing Digital Infrastructure

• Test new approaches to ducts and poles and access to dark fibre in Digital Enterprise Zones to support the roll-out of full-fibre.

The rapid rollout of FTTP networks is greatly helped by the ability to access existing ducts and poles; this is important beyond fixed infrastructure. Full FTTP fibre is crucial for the delivery of widespread mobile internet coverage and capacity – mobile operators’ masts need to be connected to fibre networks in order to meet the current and future demand for mobile services.

• Incentivise investment in full fibre networks.

Rewarding investment in full fibre gigabit capable networks would encourage genuine competition. Investment in full fibre networks must not be undermined by incumbent providers using investment in existing copper based infrastructure to undermine the investment case for full fibre.

• Relax rules controlled by local authorities.

This should include planning, traffic management and road closure rules and related access permissions. Reforms to noticing, permits, section 58 notices and traffic management processes could speed up the delivery of infrastructure.

• Reduce the burden of Business Rates and give access to public sector land, building and street furniture.

The Government has already announced measures to introduce business rate relief for new fibre deployment; Digital Enterprise Zones could take this a step further by providing rate relief on all digital infrastructure investments. Alongside this freeing up access to public sector buildings and land would help with infrastructure provision. Street furniture could be made available for network infrastructure equipment.

The first point is already being handled as part of Ofcom’s cable Duct and Pole Access proposal (here), which will make it easier and cheaper for rival ISPs to access Openreach’s (BT) existing ducts and telegraph poles. However the mention of Dark Fibre may be more problematic as a regulatory dispute has resulted in Openreach suspending their planned launch of a related product (here).

Meanwhile the Government has already announced a fresh investment pot of £600m, as well as a tax break on business rates, to help foster the roll-out of new “full fibre” networks. Openreach are separately consulting on their aspiration for a wide-scale deployment of FTTP broadband, possibly to as many as 10 million premises by 2025, which Vodafone has taken an interest in (here).

Similarly the calls for softer rules on new infrastructure building at local authority level are nothing new and we’ve raised that a number of times over the past few months (examples here and here), although it remains to be seen how effective the Government are at tackling these or even if they’ll bother.

Nick Jeffery, CEO of Vodafone UK, said:

“The UK is already a leader in digital industries like the Internet of Things and virtual reality, and there is much more we can achieve if we make the most of our nation’s digital potential. The report Vodafone commissioned shows that this potential exists right across the country, from small businesses looking to use digital tools to open up new markets, to a student learning coding skills to develop a new app.

With the right approach, the UK can unlock this potential and lay the groundwork for a wave of Digital Super Towns capable of delivering economic growth throughout the country.”

Matt Hancock, Minister for Digital, said:

“We are already seizing the opportunities of the growing tech industry, with our digital economy worth more than £118bn a year and employing more than 1.4 million people.

We are determined to keep up this momentum and plans in our Digital Strategy to boost the nation’s digital skills, infrastructure and innovation will help make sure it happens.

I welcome Vodafone’s interest in this area, its ongoing work to help unlock digital growth and look forward to studying these interesting proposals in more detail.”

Some of the locations identified by the report include Altrincham, Tynemouth, York, Solihull and Bath. For example, Altrincham is situated 8 miles away from Manchester city centre and earns high scores in all three categories of digital potential because it has widespread 4G coverage, a skilled workforce and a cluster of digital businesses in close proximity to one another.

The report has attempted to categorise different towns and cities by creating a scorecard of their performance, which are split into three of the most incredibly vague grading tiers.

1) Digital Pacesetters – Digital high performers when compared to others within the scorecard.

2) Digital Pillars – Solid digital performers, but have not yet reached the performance levels of Digital Pacesetters.

3) Digital Prospects – A digital base on which to build, but have not yet reached the performance levels of Digital Pillars.

vodafone uk digital super towns

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
9 Responses
  1. TheFacts says:

    ‘Full FTTP fibre is crucial for the delivery of widespread mobile internet coverage and capacity – mobile operators’ masts need to be connected to fibre networks in order to meet the current and future demand for mobile services.’

    I see fibre being installed to masts even in rural areas, just place an order. Vodaphone should know this.

    1. GNewton says:

      Stop twisting the facts. You know pretty well that running fibre to rural mobile masts is way more expensive compared to urban areas.

  2. Rich says:

    None in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland I don’t think, so maybe it should be “50+ towns and cities across England” rather than “50+ towns and cities across the United Kingdom” to be more accurate.

  3. MikeW says:

    In here is a great promise to the government… We can bring full fibre and genuine competition. All we need in return is for you to lock out “the incumbent providers” from investing in copper.

    If only we realised it was so easy before now

  4. dragoneast says:

    They excluded the land mass with two tier Councils then? If only we’d realised it was that easy!

  5. CarlT says:

    A fine piece of Fibre to the Press Release by Vodafone here.

  6. asrab says:

    The title should read “Vodafone have identified the most cost effective areas in England to deploy fiber” of course this is all to do with the investment negotiation with open-reach,

  7. Bill says:

    Vodafone would be more credible if they followed up their report with:

    “We will be deploying full fibre to these 50 areas within two years”


  8. Matt B says:

    Christ, the McKinsey style terminology is nauseating.

    Come back to us when you have some measurable objectives Vodafone, thanks.

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