With competition in the UK gigabit broadband sector reaching cut-throat levels, driven by huge demand from consumers, enterprises and telecoms operators, business connectivity provider Neos Networks has revealed plans to invest in a full-fibre, last-mile, metro network expansion programme across the capital and three key regional UK cities.
Neos Networks was formerly SSE Enterprise Telecoms, a division of the national energy provider. It has been engaged to build a nationwide, high-capacity fibre network, and has focused solely on serving businesses, public sector organisations and critical national infrastructure providers with essential, reliable connectivity for more than 20 years.
In April 2021, Neos launched Ethernet over FTTx (EoFTTx), aiming to “revolutionise” the Ethernet services market with its first offering under its new corporate identity. The service is targeted at organisations with smaller sites that are unsuitable for services above 1Gbps but are too mature for standard broadband connectivity and can make good use of a cost-effective, sub-1Gbps Ethernet hybrid system that has been purpose-built to support growing demand for a full suite of Ethernet services.
The company also recently announced that it had unbundled 550 comms exchanges belonging to UK incumbent operator BT, bringing up to 100Gbps high-capacity fibre connectivity within reach of almost 750,000 business postcodes across the UK.
The latest announcement marks an acceleration in Project Edge, the company’s network expansion programme which aims to bring high-capacity 100Gbps connections within reach of more UK businesses and will also help facilitate the roll-out of advanced 5G services on the Three network. The programme will see the company reach a fibre footprint of more than 34,000km by the end of 2021, underpinning the UK government’s target for full-fibre, gigabit connectivity to 85% of UK premises by 2025.
Deployment is already underway, and the company’s first access network is scheduled to come onstream in Liverpool at the start of next year. Project Edge will also see two more regional metro access networks serving businesses in Birmingham and Manchester go live from the middle of 2022, with the City of London intended to come onstream in February 2023.
Across the first three regional cities, the company said its new access networks would bring fibre connectivity within the reach of almost 10,000 locally based businesses and regional offices. The access network in the City of London will bring direct connections to the company’s high-speed, high-capacity, full-fibre national network to around 23,000 businesses right into the heart of the capital.
The move into last-mile access networks means the company will no longer have to rely on third-party connectivity, allowing it to offer regional businesses better timescales and lower costs for the higher quality service associated with its nationwide UK backbone business network. By connecting directly into high-speed core network, it said the new metro access networks would also improve choice and connectivity for national companies looking to better integrate their regional centres.
“Regionally based businesses and offices, of all sizes and across all sectors, need access to the highest available quality of connectivity if they are to keep pace with their national and international competitors,” said Sarah Mills, managing director of wholesale and smart infrastructure at Neos Networks.
“The UK lags behind many of its European neighbours in terms of business fibre access, but with Project Edge we aim to help UK businesses – starting in Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester, as well as those in the capital – to catch up and truly compete, not just on a level playing field, but on one tilted in their favour,” she added.
Firms in Liverpool’s densely populated business districts are already signing up for the faster, higher-capacity connections. Non-profit national body Jisc, which serves the UK’s higher and further education sector with digital skills and solutions, has signed up to take advantage of regional access to the high-speed national network as soon as it goes live.
“Connecting directly to Neos Networks’ high-quality, reliable network here in Liverpool will strengthen our infrastructure, improving both the speed and quality of the services we are able to deliver to our partners in education and research across the UK,” commented Jisc’s deputy director, Neil Shewry.
Outside the big cities, Oxfordshire County Council has selected Neos Networks to build full-fibre gigabit-capable broadband infrastructure to a range of public sector and local authority sites in the region, in a bid to improve connectivity and digital inclusion. As part of a 20-year deal, Neos will work with Openreach, Virgin Media Business and locally based Gigaclear to connect a range of county council buildings, GP practices, schools, libraries, fire stations, leisure centres, community centres and museums.
The project builds on Oxfordshire’s wider commitment to improve connectivity across the county through its Digital Infrastructure Programme and is also funded with a £5m investment from Oxfordshire County Council and circa £2m investment from the government’s DCMS GigaHubs project.
It will enable Oxfordshire County Council to realise its ambitions for equipping community centres to become community working hubs offering enhanced community services, health and social care support, thereby reducing the need for people to travel further afield to access these services. This will in turn help the county council in meeting its objective for net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Additionally, the new infrastructure will allow the council to migrate to lower-cost fast broadband connections for its office buildings.
Neos will manage the implementation, with the first phase of the programme set to be delivered by March 2022. This marks the first majority council-funded project aimed at improving the service available at community centres and village halls, while also offering a more cost-effective connectivity solution for public sector sites.
“This is an exciting time for Oxfordshire. We are putting a lot of time and resource into ensuring that we are one of the best-connected counties in the UK. This project strengthens our commitment to our digital infrastructure strategy and to improving local access to services, reducing the need to travel,” said Oxfordshire County Council’s cabinet member for corporate services councillor, Glynis Phillips.
“We particularly look forward to finding ways to maximise the range of services that will be enabled in Oxfordshire’s vibrant community centres and village halls, where collaboration with parish, district and the county council will be key alongside our colleagues in the NHS,” she added.
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