Case study – FibreSpeed
The Department for the Economy and Transport within the Welsh Assembly Government is tasked with developing a longterm programme for the Welsh economy to support strong and sustainable financial growth and a move to a knowledge-based economy. This will boost Welsh employment levels in line with the rest of the UK, and prompt an increase of high value, skilled jobs, to attract and retain professionals and further encourage investment in the region.
A key problem facing the Welsh Assembly Government was the lack of affordable broadband for business and residential users, which is a crucial element in supporting regional economic development. High speed communication services in North Wales were found to be up to six times more expensive than in London and the South East, creating a barrier to business growth and innovation. With an objective to promote North Wales as a prime target for investment, the Welsh Assembly Government looked to set up a unique collaboration between the public and private sectors to commission the first Government supported communications network of its kind to be delivered in the UK. This collaboration required a network provider with a solid track record of delivering to the public sector, exemplary project management skills and an innovative technological vision.
It was fundamental that the Government selected a partner who could offer a solution to extend the long-term value of the network, beyond the immediate business benefits of lower cost, high speed communications.
With a £30 million investment over 15 years from the Welsh Assembly Government, European Regional Development Funds and Geo Networks Ltd, FibreSpeed Limited was established as a subsidiary business of Geo. The purpose of this organisation was to design, build, operate and commercialise an advanced, entirely bespoke open access network – FibreSpeed. This infrastructure was developed to provide high speed next generation communication services to Wales, providing access to the passive fibre optic network itself whilst supporting a minimum of symmetrical 10 Mbit/s services with multi-Gigabit capability; technology with the capacity to offer even greater speeds as the market dictated.
FibreSpeed’s services are not offered directly to the end user but as an open access platform for service providers, ISPs, telecoms companies and other ICT suppliers to the Welsh market to offer high speed and high bandwidth communications to businesses and consumers in the area.
The initial phase of the network delivery stretches over 200 miles between Holyhead in Anglesey and the international carrier-neutral hub in Manchester, commencing with the connection of 12 business parks.
FibreSpeed’s world class infrastructure is creating a new local telecoms market while giving businesses the opportunity to innovate, grow or relocate to the region. Unlike legacy telecoms models, FibreSpeed is an open access architecture which is technology agnostic, providing service providers access to the passive dark fibre layer as well as Ethernet services. This facilitates innovation and competition, as service providers can develop and deploy their own services on the network, and ensures that the public sector and regional business economies are not reliant on a single infrastructure provider.
The model of open access at both passive and active layers meets the EC State Aid Guidelines for intervention in relation to the rapid deployment of broadband networks, enabling a competitive environment where market failure has been identified.
“Our open access networks stimulate competition and encourage sustainable economic development”, says Chris Smedley, Chief Executive of Geo and FibreSpeed.
“Open access fibre networks challenge the traditional telco offering of capacity-limited bandwidth services, and acts as an enabler for smaller service providers to grow. Our solutions provide public sector organisations with the infrastructure for long-term economic development, at a lower operational cost base.”
Service providers will also be able to extend their network reach to more rural areas throughout the region via their own network infrastructure or wireless solutions. Some examples of connected businesses in Bangor are Anchor Computer Systems, the luxury student accommodation provided by Carlton North Wales and Excelsior Technologies in Deeside.
In its first operational year, the FibreSpeed service provider network has accumulated many new service providers, now offering competitive services to end users across a variety of industry sectors including Finance, IT, Media and Utilities. High speed communications are now being delivered at prices comparable with London and the South-East, keeping business costs low and thereby improving the competitiveness of businesses based in Wales.
The network is operated and maintained on a day-to-day basis by FibreSpeed Limited, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Geo.