Connected Britain 2018: the dark fibre hangover still looms

Last week I attended Connected Britain at the Business Design Centre in Islington, London. It was a coming together of the UK’s leading telcos, national and local government bodies, investors, infrastructure owners, and the property sector. All with the common goal of revolutionising Britain’s connectivity landscape.

It was quickly evident that one roadblock in particular to Britain reaching connectivity nirvana would dominate much of the event – dark fibre, or rather the scarcity of access to it. The mobile operator community in particular was still coming to terms with BT Openreach revoking its Dark Fibre Access (DFA) in August last year. And despite the industry having to accept, adjust and move on from this announcement, it was still a key matter of discussion. Indeed, there was strong opinion from the mobile operator community that without access to BT’s dark fibre network, the commercialisation of 5G in the UK could be hindered.

From my perspective, the result of the decision around DFA has divided the industry; there are those who were depending on it, and those who are carrying on without it and embracing new technologies and solutions to try to bridge the gap that the pause of DFA caused. We at SSE Enterprise Telecoms are in the latter category, and this week we’ve put a stake in the ground with our latest announcement about our major network investment project to provide a dark fibre-like network, capable of achieving up to 100Gbps to many of our exchanges, supported by our third-party technology supplier, Infinera’s, scaleable and elegant product set.

All about applications

The conversation within some sections of the telco industry also seems to have shifted away from DFA and towards applications, as businesses noticed a hike in demand for applications, I was surprised by how many of the companies represented at Connected Britain have moved from being connectivity players to also being application vendors.

A lot of conversations had, were around the growing dependency on apps, particularly in sectors like Financial Services (FS), for example. There are two reasons why the FS industry in particular wants to focus on applications: interoperability and security. We’ve all had some kind of touchpoint with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), banks – which exist in a highly regulated industry – want to be able to invest in building up their defences to fend off intervention. Applications support that in a big way. I would expect this area to grow.

Innovative connectivity… the search continues

I think it’s fair to say that the theme of Connected Britain was all around revolutionising Britain’s connectivity. But when it came to conversations about enhancing and diversifying the UK network, I was certainly expecting to see more innovative solutions. Don’t get me wrong, there were lots of telcos talking about investing in networks, but it was all in a traditional way. I’m a strong believer that in order for connectivity to move on, innovation is vital in the way in which providers deliver services. One thing SSE Enterprise Telecoms is always striving for is exploring smarter ways of improving connectivity.

A great example of this is our recent Fibre in the Sewers initiative that will see us run Dark Fibre services through London’s waste water network.  The project saw us partner with Thames Water to bring better connectivity speeds to select, key streets in London which in turn helped us to avoid the expensive digs (and challenging restrictions) that come with laying cable traditionally within the city. We’ve also been toying with the idea of running fibre along railway lines to give a variation to the load, and further enhance security.

The search for creative connectivity continues – if anyone has an innovative idea in these areas then I’d love to talk to them.

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