by Martin Kemp, Public Sector Development, CityFibre

First-class digital infrastructure is now widely recognised as the backbone of a modern, thriving, service-based economy. But what does it take for a local authority, to secure it for their region? What are the challenges? How can they navigate them most efficiently? And, once they’ve secured the infrastructure, what’s next?

These are all questions up for discussion in a session I’ll be facilitating at this year’s Solace Summit in Brighton on 17-19 October.

At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced the limits of technology and our own patience as an internet user at the end of a copper cable. And, despite our grumbles, we’ve been told consistently that a half-hearted upgrade of our ageing copper network to a part copper, part-fibre solution is up to the job of supporting our digital future. Until now.

As a long-standing advocate for real next-generation infrastructure, recent times have heralded an unprecedented gearshift, clearing the track for an accelerated full fibre push. Fresh government policies, for example, the Digital Strategy, now openly promote and support the build of UK-wide full fibre infrastructure – something we couldn’t have predicted a couple of years ago.

As part of this vision, the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) programme, launched on November 22, 2017, was established to invest money in real projects that make full fibre network build and expansion happen. Through the programme, DCMS are empowering public-sector bodies to procure infrastructure (not services) and over a much longer term. This is a savvy move because it helps drive ‘best value’ and puts the public sector body in control of their service provision and choice, reducing their reliance on any single service provider. The DCMS funding is also helping to reinforce the fact that full fibre infrastructure is now a minimum requirement when it comes to PSN/HSCN connectivity; future-proofing public service transformation for the foreseeable future.

Public sector bodies benefit from the programme by identifying a public-sector estate within their town, city or region and submitting a business case to the LFFN challenge fund to replace all existing infrastructure with full fibre. Applicants are expected to contribute to the full fibre infrastructure costs, either by identifying existing infrastructure that could be offered up for commercial sale or lease, or capitalising existing revenue budget spent on WAN infrastructure. This means a solution can prove to be revenue neutral.

Achieving a full fibre deployment that also delivers maximum social and economic value is not without its challenges though. A vital part is ensuring that infrastructure – built to serve public sector requirements initially – will continue to expand, and that it also has the potential to serve every home and business in the future. This cannot be assumed, it must be planned for and that relies on a ‘build once – for all’ approach from the infrastructure provider themselves.

There is a great deal to learn from those who have already navigated this path. And even more to learn from those who are now embarking on the next phase of their journey to ensure their town or city stays at the forefront of the digital revolution.

CityFibre also bring a great deal to this discussion. As the UK’s largest independent builder of fibre network infrastructure, we already operate networks that are bringing the benefits of gigabit connectivity to communities, helping cities compete globally and making Smart City visions a reality.

We currently have full fibre network projects in 51 cities across the UK. In eight of these our networks have grown through partnerships with local authorities: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, York, Kirklees, Peterborough, Coventry, Southend and Stirling. Our most recent project for West Sussex was also the first DCMS LFFN full fibre project award.

Partnerships with local authorities are important to us because public sector sites are typically dispersed across the geographies they serve. This means a local authority’s connectivity requirements can anchor the build of a dense full fibre spine network which we can then cost-effectively extend to serve enterprises and SMEs (as demonstrated in Peterborough, Coventry and Edinburgh), 4G/5G mobile cells (as in Hull) and homes (as in York).

With this ‘build for all’ vision sitting at the heart, we design a network from the outset that is fit to serve all market sectors and able to meet the whole area’s bandwidth and connectivity demands far into the future. For a local authority, what may begin as a way to upgrade its site connectivity in a highly cost-effective way, quickly becomes the enabling infrastructure for a long-term digital agenda.

Whatever stage of the journey you’re at, and whether you have questions to ask or experiences to share, come and be part of the discussion at the Solace Summit in Brighton on 17-19 October.

This article was originally published in Solace News on 3 Sept 2018, with an edited version then shared by Martin on LinkedIn. Solace is the representative body for Chief Executives and senior managers working in the public sector in the UK.