Case Studies

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Manchester develops next generation access (NGA) Broadband

A key priority of Manchester’s statutory city region pilot is to expand and diversify the City Region’s economic base by creating the best conditions for innovation accelerated by next generation digital infrastructure.

Cities with good communications infrastructure are attractive to investors and have higher property values. They are better equipped to grow strong knowledge and creative economies. Today a good communications infrastructure means high speed, high quality digital networks that can keep up with accelerating demand and with the investment in competitor cities.

Dave Carter, head of Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA) at Manchester City Council says: “Demand for bandwidth is increasing exponentially. For fixed line infrastructure, only optical fibre can accommodate this increasing demand. This means using fibre for the whole connection fibre to the premises (FTTP) complemented by next generation wireless networks.”

“Other technologies and planned enhancements will only help for a very short while, enabling regions to compete more effectively with other parts of the UK but not with the other parts of the world, which they will need to do if the UK is to fully realise its opportunities to be a leading global player.”

The Oxford Road Corridor network is a pilot project to test next generation access networks, with the ambition to grow the project to Greater Manchester under the remit of the Manchester Digital Development Agency (MDDA), an arm of Manchester City Council.

Manchester is one of two statutory city regions in the UK where a new model of development is being tested – Leeds is the other. There are ten local authorities within the Manchester region, all of which want to develop next generation access – often referred to as FTTP, which includes business as well as domestic fibre to the home (FTTH). The implies a completely different type of connection compared to conventional copper cabling to premises, with much higher bandwidth or transmission speed, and the ability to expand bandwidth by changing active equipment.

“It is easy to set up a 100 megabit FTTP service, but not much more difficult to make it 1 gigabit,” argues Shaun Fensom of Manchester Digital, a non-profit trade association that is independent of the public sector (not to be confused with MDDA). “Fibre also scores on other factors such as latency, jitter, quality of service (QoS) and symmetry. Latency is critical in cloud computing and jitter is critical in high definition video conferencing for example. A raft of new applications will become available as a result of low latency, and of symmetry, that is same speed upload as that of download.

“The commonplace DSL services currently available mostly have asymmetric (slower) upload, as do some fibre networks to be fair, but there is an opportunity to have a much more symmetrical service than people are used to with ADSL.”

Because DSL is so dependent on distance, broadband customers routinely experience a halving of the nominal bandwidth quoted by ADSL service vendors. Rivalling FTTP as a technology for next generation networks is fibre to the cabinet, or very high bitrate digital subscriber line (VDSL) – the final cabling from the street cabinet to the premise is still copper, with a download speed claimed to be up to 60 megabit and 10 megabit upload.

Fensom argues that this still does not solve the high contention issues also experienced by customers, and there is still a distance dependency from the premise to the cabinet. The Corridor covers an area of South Manchester and includes some large hospitals, universities, a science park, a techno park, and mixed demographic housing.

“The two-year Corridor pilot will connect 1,000 homes and 500 businesses to determine what kind of business models would work, what mix of services are in demand and what prices are to be charged for these services. It will look at innovative fibre installation techniques like slot-cutting by saw on a road instead of digging a trench in order to drop fibre cable in, or like running fibre through sewers.

“It will be an open network where the city council will be the initial network operator, working with a private sector partner called Geo, which designs and builds bespoke fibre networks. It will not offer connection services directly to the customer, but through service providers. This provides an open platform for competition between service providers, which could include telephone suppliers, internet service providers (ISPs), digital TV vendors, voice over IP vendors, and so on.

“In the UK, it is not unusual for one vendor to offer a mix of services as a bundle, but where fibre networks are built in other parts of Europe, customers buy individual services from several competing companies operating on the same open network.”

Fensom explains that a small ISP may buy from the network a connection to resell through to the customer which is ‘fully lit’, while a larger ISP may want to ‘light’ the connection itself, or in other words, to provide the active equipment at each end of a connection provided by the network as ‘dark’ fibre .

This opens up whole value chains of different types of access, with vendors occupying different parts of the value chain. Those buying dark fibre make higher margins because they have to commit to a larger investment in active equipment. The first connections will be made in mid-2010.

Fensom concludes: “The ultimate ambition to connect businesses across Greater Manchester would need to go alongside developments in next generation connections to homes. Amsterdam has done a great deal of this already, by connecting 40,000 homes and businesses to fibre networks, and Manchester has drawn much inspiration and indeed, assistance from Amsterdam City Council. If you were to name the three most exciting places in Europe for the development of digital industries, covering everything from new media and web design through to cloud computing development, they would be London, Amsterdam and Manchester."

One of the reasons The Corridor was chosen as a starting point, was that it has an internet exchange in the middle, with a lot of internet peering activity where the connections between the private networks take place – they can exchange traffic locally without charging each other.

“There are only two places where significant peering activity goes on in the UK: London and Manchester. As a consequence of peering, transit prices are very low. There is no other place in the UK where you can do that outside of the London Docklands”, added Fensom.


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Gateshead's Baltic Business Quarter Goes for Economic Growth

In order to create economic growth locally, a high speed broadband infrastructure was needed for Gateshead’s Baltic Business Quarter. But with private investors nervous of committing the funds, Gateshead Council took the bold decision to create its own state of the art network. But how could it justify the expense?

All regions can benefit from the efficiencies that broadband brings to a local economy, but often an instant return on investment is not possible, as the timeline for effects of the fiscal stimulus cannot be quantified.

In these cases, the private sector is reluctant to invest as impatient shareholders want payback within a few years.  

In the northeast Gateshead Council took the initiative and collaborated with technology provider Alcatel-Lucent to build its own broadband infrastructure. The resulting Open Access Broadband Network (OABN) could provide the communications technology for local industry that could catalyse economic regeneration of the area, the council argued.

“We wanted to attract sophisticated users of IT who could create high quality jobs for local people,” says Councilor Mick Henry, leader of Gateshead Council. “The firms that use the latest technology will offer good quality sustainable employment. They will want access to high-speed broadband infrastructure,” he says. But first, in order to gain the funds, it needed help from its partner to make the business case.

To get funding for big infrastructure projects, councils must prove the investment is in the best interests of their communities they serve. Building a watertight business case for the deployment, with projected returns of economics stimulation and social inclusion, is complex. Alcatel-Lucent’s Bell Labs business modeling team helped assess all the variables involved, such as capital investment (CAPEX) needed, the cost of all civil works required for fibre installation, the expected take up of services over time (based on analysis of the market and the local communities) and the cost of operating the network year on year.

Now built, the OABN is a fibre optic network offering 10 Gigabytes of bandwidth with a capacity that could scale up to 40 gigabytes as and when needed.

This is the sort of capacity needed by high tech companies who deal in services like video conferencing, media streaming and disaster recovery. Attracting these sorts of companies will attract employers who provide skilled jobs and a sustainable high value economy.

The openness of the new OABN infrastructure enables local service providers to join and deliver next-generation services over the network with minimal investment. If it was funded by a private investor, they would need to charge as much as £40,000 for a connection, in order to get back the money they spent on construction. The publicly funded network will promote competition between service providers locally, potentially pushing down communications costs for businesses working at Baltic Business Quarter and helping them compete more effectively in national and global markets.

The new infrastructure means the council can offer better services for local people. As the network extends into a nearby residential area it will support rich multimedia services, distance learning and a range of electronic healthcare services for local people.

The Baltic Business Quarter could only attract the new business if it offered something no-one else in the local area could offer. Not just broadband but a state-of-the-art, fibre-optic broadband infrastructure. In addition to connecting the businesses in Baltic Business Quarter, this new network would enable any service provider to deliver broadband to local businesses with minimal investment.

The G-TI network has delivered future-proof fibre optic infrastructure to Baltic Place, argues says Stuart Hopley development manager at Robertson Spaceworks. “As the fibre is already installed it makes it easy for service providers to target new customers and easy for occupiers to access the latest applications and technologies,” says Hopley. “This is great for ISPs, great for occupiers who have maximum choice and maximum flexibility and great for us, because it makes Baltic Place attractive to world class businesses who need world class communications," says Hopley.

Now the site for the new £39 million Gateshead College, and the regional HQ of the Open University, Baltic Business Quarter could boost sustainable economic growth locally by creating skilled jobs in digital industries with a solid long term future.

Broadband widens the number of skills available to local employers and makes the local workforce more scope too. It helps connect employees seamlessly in distant locations and, vice versa, helps local employees to work for remote employers. This helps boost local employment and gives local businesses better access to specialist skills.

Technology can streamline a range of business processes. It makes sourcing products easier; fine tunes the supply chain management and improves customer service. It opens up new channels for online buying and ordering and gives companies the insurance of a disaster recovery service.

As a result, Gateshead businesses will be able to compete effectively on the international business stage and the local economy will attract more inward investment.

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Creating a Broadband Backbone for North Yorkshire

For a long time, the citizens and businesses of North Yorkshire struggled to get the full benefits of connectivity. There was a distinct communications blockage primarily, many suspected, because the region lacked a decent broadband infrastructure. 

Many in the region suspected that the area was getting a raw deal and that lack of connectivity was harming the region. Skills could not be brought online, economies could not be achieved in manufacturing and production processes and trade could suffer. The public sector also suffered from the same lack of access to high speed broadband, to service its networks and citizens.  Therefore North Yorkshire County Council, in consultation with Yorkshire Forward, created NYnet Ltd to build a high speed fibre network across the county.  The objectives of the new network would be to bring faster, cheaper and better broadband services to the public sector,  to help local businesses get access to business broadband through partnerships with Service Providers, and to work with Communities to help bring them access to next generation broadband in areas where there was no broadband service at all.

The County Council awarded its entire Wide Area Network (WAN), a £42.4m 10 year broadband contract, to NYnet in 2008. The contract was scheduled to be completed over two years providing broadband access for 550 sites beginning with the council’s Disaster Recovery and Storage Area Network facilities in Scarborough. NYnet has now connected all council sites, completing the roll out according to schedule.

As a result of the connection, County Council sites can now receive core broadband speeds up to 60 times faster than previously available, with 35 per cent more bandwidth, at no additional cost. The new connection has established a resilient and scalable broadband network able to meet the County Council’s future IT requirements.

The NYnet connection, has enabled the County Council to deliver massively improved services to the public across North Yorkshire, says David Sadler, Assistant Director in charge of ICT Services at North Yorkshire County Council. “NYnet is a unique technology enterprise which has made a real difference to the economic and social fortunes of the county providing the latest broadband technology at no extra cost,” says Sadler. “The increased efficiencies made possible through NYnet’s technology such as shared council services, and back office functions, has provided excellent value for money and delivered huge cost savings.”

NYnet now provides high-speed broadband connections to nearly 80 per cent of public sector services in the county including offices, schools, libraries and 15 fire service sites across North Yorkshire.

As a result of the high-speed broadband connection around 350 schools such as St Aidan's in Harrogate, Arkengarthdale near Richmond and Lady Lumley’s in Pickering will have greater opportunities for online learning and teaching support.

Lady Lumley’s in particular suffered from a very slow and unreliable broadband connection, which made teachers reluctant to use online resources.

The new fast and reliable internet access has improved learning and teaching and has enabled the school to establish a virtual learning environment with 24 hour access, facilitating shared resources, remote group collaboration and student communication with teachers.

“The NYnet network has moved us into the 21st Century,” says Derek Simpson, Network Manager at Lady Lumley’s School. “I don’t know how we would operate without it now.”

The benefits of the system became immediately apparent during the recent ash cloud crisis which saw six teachers stranded abroad but able to keep in touch with pupils and colleagues via the virtual learning environment.

North Yorkshire’s libraries are also benefiting from the connection which has seen 44 sites connected to the high-speed network enabling libraries to offer customers free or low cost computer access.

The fast, stable and reliable connection has increased the range of online facilities available to library users such as access to online reference material and an online requests and renewal service.

NYnet Chief Executive David Cullen promises that the next generation network will provide the council with the flexibility and capacity needed to meet the IT requirements of the future. “I am of course delighted that NYnet has connected the entire network on schedule,” he says. He now looks forward to offering exciting new services such as high-quality video conferencing.

In terms of poor broadband services in rural communities, David Cullen, Chief Executive says NYnet suspected North Yorkshire was one of the most poorly served regions in the UK in terms of broadband provision. Yorkshire Forward commissioned a broadband speed survey for the region to track actual speeds on lines.  The North Yorkshire coverage results of this survey were shared with NYnet, which revealed the true scale of the problem. It demonstrated that North Yorks was one of the worst regions in the UK, with many rural communities with no service at all or at best well below the 2Mbps set out as the Universal Service Commitment.

This information was enough to persuade North Yorkshire County Council to find the funds to bankroll a community broadband pilot project.

The first trial project was in the remote North Yorkshire village of Newton-on-Rawcliffe, where 140 residents were chosen to benefit from high-speed, next generation broadband network that matches anything available in a major city. The project was managed by NYnet and delivered by the Community Internet Service Provider, NextGenUs UK CIC. The village and neighbouring hamlet, Stape, suffered from poor broadband service.  NYnet upgraded the fibre service to Lady Lumley’s High School in Pickering. NextGenUs were then able to connect from the school and beam a wireless connection into the village hall in Newton.  The residents can now enjoy reliable high speed broadband and this has transformed village life.

“We were surprised by how quickly people took to the new network,” says Billy Garrett, “we thought it would take a while to get people used to the idea, but adoption was almost immediate.”

A second pilot project is being implemented in the Farndale and Rosedale communities in the North Yorkshire Moors.  This second scheme has the potential to reach around 400 households with next generation broadband access. The success of these two pilot schemes is being used to help NYnet attract further funding to enable communities in 50+ ‘not spot’ areas identified by the Yorkshire Forward report.

“What matters most to all of us in the company is the overwhelmingly positive response from customers and the benefits we are bringing to communities across North Yorkshire,” ” says Cullen, “this is testament to the effectiveness of NYnet.”

NYnet, formed by Yorkshire Forward and North Yorkshire County Council with funding from the European Union, provides a super-fast internet network to ensure North Yorkshire is not ‘left behind’ by the rest of the world in the next phase of the internet revolution.

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South Yorkshire Ubiquitous Next Generation Broadband

The investment made by Digital Region to create a ubiquitous next generation broadband infrastructure could reinvigorate local industry and make South Yorkshire one of Europe’s most attractive and dynamic business environments. Senior business development manager Richard Jepson says he is looking forward to meeting this challenge. After all, they’ve solved this problem before and now they can apply that experience and do an even better job.

The first step of the project is to identify the scale of the task, as on the face of it areas like South Yorkshire have a mountain to climb before they can catch up with the rest of the field in Britain’s competitive digital landscape. Typical of regions hit by the decline of traditional manufacturing industries in the UK, there’s high unemployment, a potential workforce with the wrong skills and a populace that finds itself on a lower than average income. Though local universities create thousands of high value science and technology graduates, few choose to settle in the region. The roads that brought commerce into the region now serve as an efficient brain drain.  Businesses that operate in the local market find themselves competing for customers with a less than average amount of disposable income. It is a tough region in which to compete. Creating one of the best large scale communications networks in Europe will reverse this decline and Digital Region is taking responsibility for making this improvement.

In the digital age a state-of-the-art communications upgrade can rejuvenate a region just as the road and rail network brought prosperity to the region in the industrial age. It could encourage more graduates to stay and set up businesses in the area. But as with the motorway building programmes of the 19th and 20th century, the construction of an internet superhighway involves considerable challenges.

Digital Region is the modern road builder. The ‘tarmac’ it is laying is a 1200 kilometre ring of fibre ultimately connecting all 54 local communications exchanges and more than 1,500 street cabinets in South Yorkshire.

The project is funded by Yorkshire Forward, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the four local authorities of South Yorkshire. Thales, a partner of Digital Region, has also invested in the project, which is a £91m build of which £27m came from the ERDF. The building programme is scheduled to take three years, with Phase 1 aimed at covering 80 per cent of South Yorkshire by May 2012. Any revenue raised will be re-invested into running the network and Digital Region says it aims to use any surplus to grow the network coverage up to 100 per cent. Thales is responsible for the design, build and operation of the Digital Region network and leads a consortium including Alcatel-Lucent and K-Com.

The new VDSL-based network that Digital Region is building represents a flexible product-set on which multiple service providers can each provide their own single physical connection, using their own layer 2 VPN, based on VPLS technology. These private lanes on the superhighway give the service providers the ability to provide high tech services to consumers that were previously unfeasible.

So Digital Region builds the infrastructure and local internet service providers are akin to freight managers who create the services that will be enjoyed by local business. A key commercial driver is based around ISP’s not having to invest unbundling equipment in all 54 exchanges in South Yorkshire. This is complemented by the technical attraction for service providers in that they can take advantage of private clouds based on VPLS (layer 2) technology, which they can then retail or sell on through their white-label services.

Consumers and businesses will be largely oblivious to the technicalities of private ‘IP-cloud’ functionality facilitated by VPLS. The concepts that will stimulate them into greater economic activity will be the applications such as video-conferencing, for example, with its many offshoots like telemedicine. The bottom line is that the delivery of quality sound and images at high speed could provide productivity boosts in business and the public sector. Consumers, for example, are more likely to buy entertainment from service providers. Meanwhile improved connectivity is more likely to provide local traders with access to new markets as the speed of access to their web sites improves, and the flow of information with customers and suppliers increases. Faster, more powerful networks mean that online customers are more likely to stumble across suppliers in South Yorkshire as they search the web for goods and services.

The efficiencies in business processes and fine tuning of the supply chain will make this region a better place for trading, making local companies more competitive. It also aims to make South Yorkshire a more attractive place where other industries could settle, bringing much needed investment into the region.

Meanwhile in the public sector the project has equally big ambitions. The ability to handle images and video more effectively will make telemedicine viable for delivering some medical consultations and other services. If patients can receive more care at home, it means a saving on journey times for both patients and medical staff and saves health service resources. Schools, on the other hand, can benefit from the deployment of next generation broadband, making virtual 1-2-1 lessons more effective and widening the scope of expertise, with the potential for instance of enabling experts from other regions to deliver lessons remotely. Councils will be able to address their stakeholders more effectively and deliver information more comprehensively. Digital Region even suggests that the work of Job Centres could be enhanced giving job seekers better advice and access to electronic job boards.

The fast network will also offer a layer of intelligence onto other infrastructure builders, such as the Highways Agency, Network Rail and the National Grid. The metering and control of the roads, rail, water and electricity networks will also bring about greater efficiencies, lower running costs and a boost in the provision of services.

The days when these dividends begin to become apparent are some way off however, and the economic benefits will not materialise overnight. It would be unrealistic to assume that the minute construction of the network is completed in 2012, the economy will immediately be the strongest in Britain.

But just as rail and road links brought prosperity to the region in the industrial revolution, the Digital Region dividend could eventually catalyse a new explosion in trade and commerce. The reaction may be a slow burn but Digital Region is confident that it will create handsome returns.


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