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Stoke-on-Trent Build Citywide 1Gb Full Fibre Broadband Network

Friday, October 25th, 2019 (9:59 am) - Score 1,645
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The City of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire UK has announced a new project worth £19.2m with Swedish operator VXFIBER (including subsidiary LilaConnect), which aims to create a publicly-owned and operated, open-access and gigabit-capable, 60 mile long full fibre broadband network with “citywide” coverage by spring 2021.

At present the city – home to about 260,000 people – doesn’t have much in the way of “full fibre” coverage (excluding private leased lines etc.) and most local premises can only get access via slower ADSL2+ or Fibre-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC / VDSL2) services from Openreach (BT), although Virgin Media’s soon to be 1Gbps capable DOCSIS network does have good coverage around much of the city.

Elsewhere the city council has already worked with VXFIBER on a pilot project (here), which last year made a 1Gbps capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network available to the Etruria Valley area of the Ceramic Valley Enterprise Zone; this is a 140 hectare site used by local businesses (around 1,000 people work in the area).

The latest news effectively reflects a significant expansion of the aforementioned approach, which the council claims holds the “potential for tens of thousands of homes and businesses to benefit.” The subtle use of that word “potential” suggests some uncertainty about when true “citywide” coverage – in terms of premises passed (i.e. every home and business) – will actually be achieved.

Nevertheless the language of this announcement seems clear about its wider aims. “The full-fibre scheme will see cables installed right into homes and businesses – rather than to a street-side cabinet – replacing the old copper wires of traditional broadband,” said the council.

NOTE: None of Openreach’s copper lines will actually be removed as part of this project, not least since it’s a separate / new network by another operator.

Otherwise the project will use £9.2m of public funding from the UK Government’s Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) programme to help connect public sector sites (e.g. council offices, NHS etc.) via the new full fibre network. Meanwhile VXFIBER will also invest £10m for the infrastructure needed to “activate the network,” which we assume includes some investment to help extend out to local homes and businesses.

Councillor Daniel Jellyman, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, said:

“Access to ultra-fast connectivity is an essential part of 21st century living. It’s about faster speeds and more reliable connections for residents and businesses, but it also plays a vital role in transforming communities with improvements such as better access to employment, education and healthcare.

The revenue from the ownership of the broadband network will also provide income which can help us to fund the vital, front line services which residents rely on.

A gigabit connection puts the city in charge of its digital future for decades to come. It means we are at the forefront of broadband technology in the UK, which will help companies to thrive and also attract investment that can bring huge economic benefits to the area.

The network is central to our plans for Stoke-on-Trent to become a smart city – using infrastructure, information and technology to improve life for everyone who lives, works and visits here.”

Mikael Sandberg, Chairman at VXFIBER, said:

“Stoke-on-Trent is a forward-looking city council with the insight to regard its full-fibre network as a long-term asset. Our continued partnership sets the benchmark for public sector digital delivery initiatives designed to stimulate business innovation and growth, as well as enhancing the lives of citizens. It provides a fully-proven and functioning blueprint for other forward-looking UK local authorities and regional governments to follow. This is wholly in tune with the UK Government’s industrial strategy goal of ‘taking advantage of technology to spread opportunity across the UK’.

It’s quite simple, city councils and local authorities have four quantifiable objectives – economic, social, environmental and efficiency. However, many are unaware that they have a solution and some of the answer to these objectives right beneath their feet.

Implementing an open access full-fibre network enables them to generate revenue and retain control and ownership of a digital asset. It signals a dynamic new approach to delivering gigabit broadband across the UK, putting communities in command of their digital destinies.”

Overall the £19.2m investment pot does in fact seem like it could be enough to cover most of the city in a full fibre network, assuming build costs remain in the low £200 to £300 per premises region (c. 64,000 to 96,000 premises passed). Exactly how all of this will work out remains to be seen, although locals are being encourage to register on the LilaConnect site and the rollout will be prioritised by demand.

The build itself will use the city council’s existing private optical network ducting and extend that to create the 60-mile system. The city council will own this new open access network, while VXFIBER is contracted to build and operate the public infrastructure. VXFIBER’s subsidiary, LilaConnect will market, sell, install and maintain the connections from this infrastructure to residents and businesses.

We should point out that LilaConnect does not itself offer any services – just the connections to the network – and they have a number of approved ISPs on their list – Air Broadband, Bridge Fibre, Pure Broadband and Vonage. One risk here is that smaller ISPs tend not to attract as much interest as major providers, which could hamper take-up (hence why Cityfibre wisely secured Vodafone’s support before building FTTH to homes).

Otherwise the installation work is expected to start in Weston Coyney and be followed by Meir, Longton, Shelton and Bentille. Assuming all goes well then the primary build of the citywide network is scheduled for completion by spring 2021. Credits to Steve for spotting this news.

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Mark Jackson
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.
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1 Response
  1. Avatar Mr CHRIS Walker

    It’s exciting, in line in the first area to get it. In fact VXFiber have approached me to place a cabinet on land owned by a village hall I’m a committee member of. The pricing is good. £9.99 to VX, £29 to the council for 1gbs connection.

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