‘Gigabit broadband will be a game changer for the city’ – Work starts on Stoke-on-Trent’s new £19 million full fibre network

Work is set to start on Stoke-on-Trent’s new multi-million pound gigabit broadband network.

Stoke-on-Trent City Council is working with Swedish firm VX Fiber to build a 60-mile full fibre network across the Potteries, after securing £9.2 million of Government funding.

VX Fiber will start installation in Weston Coyney next week, followed by Meir, Longton, Shelton and Bentilee, with first customers due to be connected by February.

The network will provide internet speeds 30 times faster than superfast broadband, allowing an HD film to be downloaded in around 45 seconds.

It is expected that the whole city will be covered by the network within three years. Residents and businesses are being urged to register their interest, with VX Fiber planning to prioritise areas of high demand.

While existing broadband utilises fibre optic cables, homes and businesses are linked to the network via copper wires. Full fibre broadband means the fibre optic cables are installed right into the buildings, allowing for much faster speeds.

The network will be owned by the council and installed in its existing private optical network ducting.

Council chiefs expect the scheme, the first of its kind in the country, to deliver a £625 million boost to the local economy while also generating income for the authority.

Dan Jellyman, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “Access to ultra-fast connectivity is an essential part of 21st century living. It’s about faster speeds and more reliable connections for residents and businesses.

“A gigabit connection puts the city in charge of its digital future for decades to come. It means we are at the forefront of broadband technology in the UK, which will help companies to thrive and also attract investment that can bring huge economic benefits to the area.

“Staffordshire University is already a leader in areas such as game design and video production. Having a gigabit network will encourage graduates to stay in Stoke-on-Trent rather than moving to London or Manchester.”

VX Fiber, which is investing £10 million of its own money in the project, has been developing similar schemes in Sweden and around the world over 20 years.

Mikael Sandberg, chairman of VX Fiber, said: “Stoke-on-Trent is a forward-looking city council with the insight to regard its full fibre network as a long-term asset. Our continued partnership sets the benchmark for public sector digital deliver initiatives designed to stimulate business innovation and growth, as well as enhancing the lives of citizens.”

LilaConnect, the company’s UK subsidiary, will market, sell, install and maintain the connections to the network.

Residential customers will be charged a £49 set-up fee and then £9.99/month for their full fibre installation. On top of that they will have to pay £29.99 a month to a service provider, rising to £39.99 after a year. Alternatively, customers can pay a one-off connection fee of £699. LilaConnect is also offering ‘bespoke’ packages for businesses.

Tunstall-based video production company Reels in Motion was hired to produce a promotional video for the project.

Managing director Matt Hubbard said: “Full fibre broadband is a really exciting scheme for Stoke-on-Trent. As a video production company we work with huge amounts of data, and so internet speed can be a big issue for us. Having this kind of infrastructure here will give us an edge.”

Sara Williams, chief executive of Staffordshire Chambers, also believes the network will be a ‘game changer’ for Stoke-on-Trent.

She said: “I think Stoke-on-Trent is well-served at the moment, but in future businesses will need the more modern infrastructure that this network will provide. We will be encouraging our members to take advantage of this opportunity.”

The scheme is being funded through the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Local Full Fibre Network Challenge Fund.

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