One of the biggest takeaways from months of national lockdown has been the critical importance of digital connectivity in keeping businesses running and consumers connected. From virtual meetings and exercise classes, to online shopping and catching up with friends and family, we have been utterly dependent on technology to provide a socially-distanced gateway to normal life.
It has even enabled a nationwide home working odyssey that is expected to continue even beyond COVID-19. It has been said that 82% of UK workers are planning on working from home more and many experts are expecting a permanent shift towards homeworking driven by this mass adoption of remote access technology.
Strong, reliable full fibre broadband, therefore, is no longer a “nice-to-have” but an essential utility, and here at CityFibre, our goal of bringing full fibre to within reach of up to 8 million homes has never felt more important. As the nation’s third national infrastructure platform, CityFibre’s construction work has carried on throughout the pandemic and continues to expand Yorkshire’s digital capacity. Throughout, we have taken measures to help ensure contractors are following the social distancing protocols to maintain the safety of our build partners and the general public.
This means that in Yorkshire’s full fibre future, which has long been a focus for investment from CityFibre, remains as close as ever. It has been a real pleasure over the years to meet with civic and business communities, connect through local events and immerse ourselves in each town and city’s digital culture.
What’s the deal with full fibre?
First, let’s explore why the digital infrastructure that we’ve been installing throughout the county is such a cut above what we have all been relying on previously.
While the term ‘fibre broadband’ is thrown around a lot, often when providers mention fibre, they are referring to connections that are only partly fibre (known as Fibre-to-the-Cabinet). These connections usually include some copper wiring for the final stretch to your home or business, which is a major factor in lagging and dropped connections. In fact, it was not even designed to carry internet services in the first place.
Full fibre is different. There’s no copper wire involved at any stage. Instead, fibre connections are used for the entire length of the journey, allowing for Gigabit capable ‘lightning speed’ services and superior reliability. Simply put, full fibre gives you what you think you may be getting, or expect, from part fibre connections.
In the UK, we are lagging behind our global neighbours in the worldwide broadband speed table. We ranked 34th in 2019, behind a host of European countries. Despite this, The UK is starting to make real progress in the adoption of full fibre, which is helping to drive an increase in broadband speeds and capacity across the country.
With awareness of the benefits of full fibre increasing, today’s prospective home buyers are also becoming more conscious of their options when it comes to internet access. Many now see reliable connectivity as a key decision factor when selecting a new home and CityFibre is working with internet service provider partners and developers across Yorkshire to ensure gigabit-speed connectivity from day one for new homeowners. In the last three months alone,
we have secured three large wayleaves with social housing landlords allowing us to connect an additional 14,500 properties across Yorkshire.
It’s imperative we make up ground especially when considering how data-hungry we are as a nation. In fact, PwC says we’re expected to consume more data than any other Western European country over the next four years. Having robust, fast and future-proof digital connections is essential to keep feeding that appetite.
Making a difference
Full fibre can revolutionise life in Yorkshire and the UK as a whole. When it comes to business, many companies are struggling with data-heavy tasks and significant server strain, meaning employees are tapping their fingers while waiting for a file to be downloaded. Full fibre eliminates the problem, sending even the largest files at lightning speed.
Moreover, because it is future-proof, it can continue to support companies however much their data consumption grows. For Leeds, as the fastest growing tech hub in the North, as well as Yorkshire’s burgeoning gaming industry, this will enable tech-experts and developers to operate at the very cutting edge of connectivity.
Beyond increased productivity, widescale full fibre connectivity gives employees the ability to work from home without worrying about their connection letting them down, providing vital flexibility and reassurance should parts of Yorkshire go into lockdown again or if their employer opts for working from home to be a long-term arrangement.
Those benefits extend further still, with our full fibre network set to underpin Yorkshire’s implementation of Smart City solutions. With full fibre, it’s possible for local authorities to support a range of programmes that make a genuine difference for all citizens. There are plenty of examples across the globe, from digital tech making parking problems a thing of the past in South Korea’s biggest city, smart waste management trucks on New York’s roads or revolutionising the use of public transport in Iceland.
Smart city implementation will be driven by the specific needs of the local population, whether that’s a focus on intelligent building management in Leeds or something else entirely. What we do know is this will all be powered by full fibre.
CityFibre in Yorkshire: the story so far
CityFibre has been building and managing full fibre networks across God’s own country since it was established in 2011, specifically in Huddersfield, Leeds, Bradford, York, Hull, Sheffield, Doncaster, Rotherham and Wakefield.
Our most advanced projects are in Leeds and Huddersfield, where we’ve been working to extend our core networks to nearly every home and business since 2018/19. As two of the first areas to be selected for our Gigabit City investment programme, these communities will enjoy near ubiquitous access to gigabit-capable broadband and close to limitless capacity, enabling the roll out of 5G, smart city technology and other applications as yet undreamed of.
In Leeds, our £120m investment is progressing at pace and we are currently gaining real traction in South Leeds, with work now moving into Morley. In West Leeds, we’ve started expanding into Farsley, Hough End and Bramley, while continuing our work in Stanningley and Pudsey. Residents in these areas are now able to connect to gigabit speed services via Vodafone. In the heart of the city, we’ve also laid the foundations in the Headrow to allow for future infrastructure work to take place.
Our recent acquisition of FibreNation from TalkTalk Group represented a major milestone in our rollout plans and has seen us add more soon to be announced locations to our Yorkshire portfolio. In the near future, we’re also planning to go live in Bradford, Batley, Barnsley and Halifax. This marks some real momentum in Yorkshire and further demonstrates that our vision for the region extends far beyond connecting a handful of towns and cities and calling it a day.
The more the merrier
Fuelling this expansion is our recently announced recruitment programme, which will create up to 10,000 jobs to support with nationwide deployment of full fibre by 2025. The recruitment programme will include the identification and training of thousands of unemployed UK residents as well as new job opportunities for qualified and experienced construction and telecoms workers. Jobs will be created within CityFibre’s growing pool of network construction partners delivering up to £4bn rollout of full fibre infrastructure to over 100 towns and cities.
Even prior to this recruitment drive we’ve had great success in nurturing new talent in Leeds. Last year we joined forces with Kirkstall Forge, Leeds College of Building and our local contractor, O’Connor Utilities (OCU) to support young apprentices through a 12-week fibre installation training scheme. Getting more skilled engineers into the workforce and helping them to secure work right away is a win-win for everyone, and initiatives like the Forging Futures Campus are a real credit to Leeds.
Engaging with young people across Yorkshire is an important and rewarding part of our work in the county. We have a duty to make sure that no one is left behind and that everyone has the same opportunities and ability to benefit from advances in technology. We’ve worked closely with local non-profit Ahead Partnership to deliver presentations to schools on the future of digital and the career options at their fingerprints, as well as a number of job fairs and careers days. This includes the exciting opportunities in game design and coding which we’ve partnered with Leeds Libraries and 100% Digital on to deliver hands-on workshop sessions.
We’ve also collaborated with local youth clubs and schools to fund the delivery of an interactive workshop with Makertopia that allowed children to design their own sustainable, liveable city. This is all about educating young people on the ways in which a connected city can positively impact their lives and getting them excited about what the future could hold in store.
What does this mean for Yorkshire?
All this progress spells good news for Yorkshire communities (and the nation as a whole) as we collectively set our sights on driving growth and establishing a new normal. We know for certain that digital infrastructure will be a key enabler.
Even before COVID-19, research we commissioned with Regeneris showed that access to a full fibre network over the next 15 years could generate £192m from increased business productivity and innovation in Leeds alone. Likewise, for homeowners in Bradford, up to £136m could be added to the value of the local property market, and a further £40m in growth could be driven from new business start-ups.
All things considered, it is a crucial time to be rolling out this game-changing technology and we look forward to seeing how people and businesses across Yorkshire use the platform we are creating to flourish and prosper.
We are grateful to the local communities that have welcomed our ambition to bring full fibre connectivity to almost every home and business locally and put Yorkshire on the map as a global digital destination. We understand that delivering projects of this scale can cause disruption to residents and we will continue to uphold our commitment to manage this as far as we possibly can.
Right at the heart of what we are trying to achieve are the communities our network will serve. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how essential fast, reliable internet connectivity is for residents, businesses and public services alike, forcing us to become even more dependent on all things digital in our working and personal lives. Full fibre internet is set to have a transformative effect on these communities and it is a privilege to lead the roll out of our state-of-the-art network to Yorkshire and beyond.
To find out more about connecting to full fibre broadband in your area, visit www.cityfibre.com/your-street