Fergus Trim of of Broadoak and Head of Developing Consensus’ Infrastructure Group

Significant investment in infrastructure and connectivity is taking place across the region to connect users to high-speed broadband. With work already in progress on CityFibre’s £50m investment project to upgrade the region to a full fibre network, Fergus Trim of Broadoak, Head of Developing Consensus’ Infrastructure Group, comments on why digital connectivity within the region must be prioritised.

Newcastle’s tech scene has a lot going for it, the city is the centre of one of the fastest growing tech clusters in the UK and its £2 billion+ industry employs over 44,000 people in 3,000 creative and digital businesses. We’re home to FTSE 100 company Sage PLC, Ubisoft’s largest UK Games Studio, the UK’s National Innovation Centre for Data and the highest proportion of STEM and computing students in the country.

Most recently, the city was added to a list of leading cities in the 2020 Smart City Index, placing 23rd ahead of Los Angeles (26), San Francisco (27), Vienna (25), Berlin (38), Hong Kong (32) and Dublin (34).  

Our strengths lie across video games, e-commerce, software development, data analytics and  immersive technologies, with our region’s businesses attracting global attention regularly. However, despite these impressive successes, Newcastle has at times struggled to keep up with modernisation of the city’s digital infrastructure.  

This is now changing, however questions remain if this is happening quickly enough and how this can be accelerated.

Significant investment in infrastructure and connectivity is taking place across the region to connect commercial and residential users to high-speed broadband. This is an incredibly important step to give access to information, learning and opportunities within the city and also to enable our businesses to access local, national and international markets. Businesses must be able to access high speed broadband in the workplace, but also in people’s homes as flexibility and home-working becomes the norm post-covid.

CityFibre is investing at least £50m to help transform Newcastle into one of the world’s best digitally connected cities. Work is well underway to build a full fibre network to reach almost every home and business. This will replace ageing copper-based networks with gigabit-capable full fibre connectivity. The Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) broadband network is being supported by the company’s UK ISP partner, Vodafone.

Currently available to less than 11 percent of premises across the UK, full fibre is considered the best for its speed, near unlimited bandwidth and reliability. By using fibre optic cables for every stage of the connection (from the customer’s home or business to the internet), users will be offered a significantly superior and more reliable broadband service, capable of Gigabit speeds (1,000 Mbps).

The network is not yet live, but once activated, services will be available from an increasing range of broadband providers. Local contractor IQA Elecnor is delivering the construction programme on City Fibre’s behalf and the build itself is expected to take around four years to finish, with expected completion by the end of 2024.

If this roll-out was accelerated throughout the city as a priority, this could attract a huge amount of attention from businesses within digital sectors looking to locate to the region.

In addition to the work of CityFibre, there are also a number of notable connectivity schemes happening across the region.

  • Virgin Media is investing in Newcastle as part of its national ‘Project Lightning’ which is increasing the cable network from 500Mbps to 1Gigabit by 2021. Virgin currently reaches about two-thirds of Newcastle
  • Stellium has designed and developed a 40km metro fibre network – the only open network in Newcastle and the first of its kind to be built in the city, connecting Newcastle City Centre to Stellium’s data centers in North Tyneside and multiple long-haul and international carriers

In addition to this, Stellium has recently completed a £30 million investment following the decision by Dublin’s Aqua Comms, a fibre-optic cable network operator, to select Stellium as a hub for data transmitted between the US, UK, and Europe on the North Atlantic Loop

  • Gavurin’s attractive Racquet’s Court development in Newcastle is the first to claim connection to the metro fibre network and offers 1 gigabit speed. It is the first of hopefully many city centre buildings to be able to offer this level of connectivity.

It’s fantastic that we have so many schemes and projects dedicated to encouraging connectivity and improving our broadband capabilities. However, as progressive as these schemes are, they are part of a long delivery programme and it’s key that the commercial areas of our city centre are prioritised. We cannot wait another four years for fast broadband speeds if we want our city to be able to compete on a national and international level.