opinion


Connectivity in Scotland: Time to re-think the options

Scotland flag

Telecoms.com periodically invites third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Craig Scott, Business Development Director at MLL Telecom, looks at some of the challenges and opportunities around fibre north of the border.

There’s a connectivity sea-change happening in Scotland right now: Inhabitants are demanding to know why they must put up with sub-par broadband speeds and access, compared to those of their neighbours south of the border.

This was illustrated by the fallout from the recent news that Scottish premises have been deemed ineligible for the UK Government’s Universal Service Obligation (USO), despite contributing funding to the initiative. The USO pledges to deliver 10Mps broadband to 100 per cent of premises. According to Rural Economy and Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing “This is indicative of the UK Government’s approach to broadband rollout thus far which has been to ignore the needs of Scotland, particularly our rural areas.”

Connectivity represents both the biggest challenge and the biggest opportunity facing the country right now. Despite a large footprint of Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC), local authorities and their inhabitants are still battling with bandwidth constraints and the availability of infrastructure.

Currently, the Scottish government is developing its “Reaching 100” (R100) programme, with the aspiration to deliver superfast broadband access to every single Scottish premises by 2021. This is in part to address concerns around a widening town-and-country divide, with rural communities fearing being left behind due to increasing reduction in services and poor connectivity for Scotland’s remote locations. Ewing himself launched the “Up Your Street” campaign to promote more take-up of the hybrid fibre FTTC/Cable fixed line broadband.

However, copper does not go far enough to solve Scotland’s connectivity crisis on its own. Fibre is needed for increased speed, more reliability, and better performance – and can deliver gigabit broadband speeds of up to 100Mbps, well above the 24Mps minimum definition of superfast broadband.

Yet currently, only 1% of Scotland is connected to full fibre. Although England – and the UK as a whole – doesn’t fare much better with a mere 3%. Local authorities in the country – both in urban and rural areas – need more fibre infrastructure to drive connectivity for businesses and residents. And in the meantime, they need connectivity partners that are the best fit to make use of the infrastructure that is available.

Recently some ambitious local authorities have begun viewing connectivity through a different lens, as part of a transformational solution that will have tangible political, economic, social benefit, as well as a technological one.

One example of this is the recent rethink of the Wide Area Network (WAN) procurement process in Stirling, which led to the city being announced as Scotland’s fourth Gigabit City in January 2017. By working in partnership with MLL Telecom and full-fibre infrastructure builder, CityFibre, Stirling Council deployed the first phase of a state-of-the-art new full- fibre infrastructure in March 2018, and the second phase in May 2018.

By providing virtually unlimited bandwidth via full fibre connectivity, CityFibre’s investment in Stirling offers benefits to the whole community. It enables Stirling Council to explore the e-learning potential offered by Gigabit connectivity in schools and libraries, while improving the use of digital and web-based tools and services for both staff and customers. With the second phase of the project extending the full fibre connectivity to business in the city, Stirling will also benefit economically through increased competition. The vastly improved infrastructure will attract new businesses, support growth among existing firms and create jobs.

The Scottish Wide Area Network (SWAN) is a wider public sector initiative that has gone some way to providing consistent connectivity options for the NHS and Local Authorities in Scotland. Announced in 2014, the nine-year contract is now in its fourth year. Organisations have the option to join the framework by 2020, with the last point to consume the services coming in 2023.

But the market has moved on. The combination of more full fibre providers like CityFibre making investments, new technologies such as 5G and SDWAN, and funding initiatives from the Department of Culture Media & Sport DCMS), is giving public sector organisations a window of opportunity to consider their options.

For many, it will be a chance to think about how they can do things differently, and how they can engage with alternative providers to deliver services in a more efficient and cost-effective way. It’s also a chance to consider the different applications and services that they will need to deliver connectivity in the future.

For those local authorities like Stirling that are looking for a partner, the procurement of WAN connectivity services is an opportunity to properly engage with suppliers, allowing prospective partners to understand unique requirements, and giving these partners the opportunity to shape the future. This allows local authorities to procure the technology and infrastructure that will suit their own needs, as well as gaining partners that are unconstrained by frameworks, have a deep customer understanding, flexible products, and better support.

As local authorities consider whether to stay or begin the move off the SWAN network, now is the time to be ambitious. That starts with thinking about new ways to deliver much-needed connectivity infrastructure cost effectively that will also provide benefit in to the local communities in Scotland.

 

Craig ScottAs a Business Development Director, Craig is responsible for identifying and developing relationships, securing new Public Sector business opportunities and delivering sales growth for MLL in Scotland and the North. Craig has been involved in the IT and Telecommunications Sector for over 20 years, working in a variety of Business Development and Client Management roles across both the Public and Private Sectors. Craig is adept in consultative sales, problem solving and customer service, and is passionate about developing and maintaining close working relationships with our clients.


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