by Andy Starnes - Head of City Development
Back in 2013, CityFibre embarked on a mission to light up Peterborough with the gold standard in connectivity - full fibre - after Peterborough City Council made the forward thinking decision to future proof its historic city and invest in next-generation digital infrastructure across its estate.
Thanks to an initial investment to connect 100 premises, followed by a later extension to connect an additional 200, Peterborough is now not only fit for the future – it is a model for modern infrastructure development that can be replicated by communities, nationwide.
However, this project has not just been about making Peterborough’s local authority network faster, more reliable and more resilient – it has also been about driving productivity and growth amongst local businesses, and making the city safer and better connected by unleashing the capabilities of full fibre across the wider community. This approach has made Peterborough a shining example of digital transformation, landing it the title of Smart City of the Year in 2015.
Now, thanks to its recently announced strategic partnership with the UK’s fastest-growing home broadband provider, Vodafone, Peterborough’s transformation into a Gigabit City is to benefit from an additional £30m investment that will extend the existing ultrafast, gigabit-capable network to nearly every home and business in the city.
The CityFibre-Vodafone partnership is committed to delivering this investment efficiently, safely and with minimal disruption, enabling everyone in the city to enjoy the benefits of next generation connectivity as soon as possible.
So what is “full fibre”?
We’ve all heard the UK’s biggest broadband providers crowing about superfast “fibre” broadband services, but the reality of what they’re actually providing might surprise you.
When broadband providers talk about fibre, what they’re actually selling is fibre to the cabinet (FTTC). With FTTC, you’re paying for fibre cable to carry data at lightning speeds… but only as far as the local data cabinet.
From there, comparatively slow and unreliable Victorian-age technology - copper cabling - completes the journey to the premises.
Full fibre is a very different beast. With full fibre, there’s no outdated copper wire involved. Instead, fibre connections are used for the entire length of the journey enabling users to download the latest 60 gigabyte ultra-HD blockbuster in 8.5 minutes instead of 6 hours! Simply put, it’s exactly what most people think they’re buying when they sign up for “fibre”.
The story so far
Since the build commenced in 2014, the businesses and public services operating along Peterborough’s 120km network have made a swift transition into the digital age. Now available to over 3500 businesses and 100 public sector sites including schools, libraries and offices, the city can confidently call itself a Gigabit City.
The city’s schools can access innovative new teaching methods as well as offer skills development in areas such as programming, digital design and technology. Integration with local authority systems has improved, with online systems and data platforms operating more efficiently and effectively. Foundations are also now being laid for true smart city capabilities in the form of public Wi-Fi, integrated infrastructure, traffic management and HD CCTV. These will all contribute to the creation of safer communities and more functional and welcoming spaces for visitors and residents alike.
What’s more, since the first businesses secured connections shortly after build started, Peterborough’s economy has enjoyed a welcome confidence boost. Many of its highest performing sectors now depend heavily on fast, reliable internet access - for example, advanced engineering and manufacturing, agri-tech, digital & creative and financial services – making any investment in connectivity an investment in the city’s future.
According to research commissioned by CityFibre and conducted by University Centre Peterborough, full fibre is making a difference. The study found that ultrafast connectivity has had a positive impact on growth, productivity and competitiveness, enabling businesses to stay ahead or in line with their rivals. This has been especially the case for the hospitality sector in which customers are increasingly demanding a connection that supports cloud access and streaming services when staying away from home for leisure and business.
Many connected businesses have also experienced an improved ability to communicate with colleagues and customers across sites. Their new full fibre services have boosted the capabilities of home working tools, cloud access and VoIP services, and this has facilitated faster file sharing, data back-up, inter-office communication and better customer relations in general. This in turn has raised the city’s profile as a profitable and productive place to do business and invest, thereby driving retention and new start-up activity.
This next phase of development will extend Peterborough’s existing 120km full fibre network to just about every home and business in the city.
This will give many residents access to gigabit-capable internet speeds for the very first time. This means faster, more resilient internet access for everyone – from school children and students accessing learning materials, to home workers accessing tools remotely, to families and friends spending time together with a movie or a long-distance video call.
During the initial build and launch phase of the network, Vodafone, currently the fastest growing broadband provider in the UK, will be CityFibre’s exclusive partner for consumer broadband, offering a range of next generation, gigabit-capable internet services to residents in Peterborough.
Even more businesses will be able to access the network too through Vodafone and CityFibre’s wholesale channel partners.
Using CityFibre’s well planned city approach, Peterborough’s full fibre network will be designed and built with enough fibre and duct in place to serve every home, business, public building and mobile site with gigabit-speeds now and far into the future.
Construction of a network on this scale will cause some disruption to the city. However, we will work closely with Peterborough City Council and make every effort to minimise disturbance wherever possible by using modern construction techniques for smooth, fast deployment and constructing in footpaths to avoid disrupting traffic flow.
By using our existing footprint in the city as a backbone for the citywide FTTP network extension, we will also save 12-18 months on an equivalent build without this asset already in the ground – providing a meaningful head start in our delivery of the city’s full fibre future.
While construction will last a number of years, the amount of time spent in any one road is likely to be just a few days. We will notify all concerned in advance to ensure they have the details of exactly what is happening to their street and when.
By the beginning of 2019, the first homes will have access to transformational gigabit speed broadband services from Vodafone and businesses will be able to connect and enjoy the same from a range of specialist business providers.
Andy Starnes is CityFibre's Head of City Development. This article was first published in Summer 2018.
To find out more about the Gigabit City infrastructure in Peterborough visit: www.cityfibre.com/peterborough
or follow @GigabitPboro