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With customers and suppliers located worldwide, connectivity to the internet has become crucial to Nuco International, a Coventry-based supplier of paper and stationery products.
The business is now reaping the rewards of taking up a full-fibre, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP), broadband connection at no cost to itself, after participating in the government’s connection voucher scheme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Although the Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme (GBVS) was only officially launched by Chancellor Philip Hammond earlier in March, it was preceded by a number of pilots around the country, including the West Midlands, where local full-fibre network builder WarwickNet was one of several participants.
WarwickNet had previously participated in the SuperConnected Cities scheme – a predecessor to the GBVS that saw in excess of 40,000 businesses receive vouchers worth up to £3,000 to cover the costs of installing so-called superfast, or fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC), broadband services.
WarwickNet sales and marketing director James Warner says that as a result of the success of this scheme in the area, Coventry City Council came knocking on his door when the GBVS pilots were announced.
“The council was keen to get us involved because, due to the way the pilot was structured, the responsibility sat with them to make sure ISPs [internet service providers] were driving awareness forward because there was no funding from DCMS [the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport] to make that kind of support available,” he says. “They appointed us, among several other suppliers, and we were very keen to get involved.”
WarwickNet ended up being named star baker during the pilot scheme, accounting for 67% of all the connection vouchers issued in the West Midlands.
Erasing slow broadband
At Nuco’s headquarters, located on a business park in Meriden, just outside Coventry, Mark Langan, Nuco’s IT and project manager, was muddling along with an out-of-date connection. Business parks and industrial estates are often among some of the worst-served parts of the country for broadband speeds, and Meriden was no exception.
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“We’ve always struggled with broadband speeds in our business park,” Langan tells Computer Weekly. “WarwickNet came in four years ago and gave us better speeds, which made a difference, but still we were struggling with slow connectivity to our customers, suppliers and to our Hong Kong office as well.
“We have also just upgraded to Microsoft Office 365, so the voucher scheme was perfectly timed because we were really starting to struggle – much as we had thought we had good broadband speeds, it just wasn’t enough.”
It was WarwickNet that took the lead on getting things rolling, says Langan, approaching Nuco as it came to the end of its old contract with the business to tell it that about the connection voucher pilot. Following brief internal discussions, Nuco elected to move forward with the process.
The application itself was quick and simple, says Langan, involving little more than a couple of signatures over email, followed by a quick due diligence conversation with Coventry City Council to make sure the firm was eligible to take part in the scheme under European Union (EU) SME legislation.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes it was WarwickNet that took the bulk of the administrative burden, logging customer details on an online portal so that it could ultimately claim back the voucher against the costs it would incur from installing full-fibre. Warner notes that this process was much improved compared with the previous SuperConnected Cities scheme.
Drawing ongoing benefits
For Nuco, switching to a gigabit-capable FTTP service has made a huge difference, said Langan. “We’ve been able to set up weekly Skype conferences with our suppliers and customers, meaning less time travelling to our suppliers in other countries and to UK customers,” he says.
“One of the biggest benefits we’ve had is better connectivity for our Hong Kong team into the UK to be able to update our ERP systems.
“The increase in broadband speed has helped this company no end, so if anybody’s looking to upgrade, they should take advantage of it,” he adds.
WarwickNet’s Warner echoes that sentiment, and urges SMEs to take advantage of the nationwide scheme sooner rather than later.
“The first step on the journey is to get in contact with specialist providers to understand what options are available, and then to get on and do it, because this is a limited time offer and a limited opportunity,” he says.