The contract represents a step change by the council, to embrace a progressive, long-term approach to infrastructure and connectivity in line with its digital strategy. It involves replacing its ageing Wide Area Network (WAN) with world-class full-fibre infrastructure which will also provide businesses and communities across the county – including its most rural areas – with access to faster, high-quality, reliable connectivity.
It will see Commsworld deliver 262km of new fibre infrastructure, which will transform connectivity to nearly 150 council sites. It will also enable access to more than 120,000 residential and business properties across the county to Fibre To The Premises (FTTP), many of whom have never enjoyed access to gigabit-capable fibre networks before.
The fibre infrastructure will be linked to Commsworld’s Optical Core Network (OCN), a next generation network in which it invested £10m, built specifically to boost security and resilience of digital infrastructure to organisations the length and breadth of the UK.
The OCN will act as the ‘spine’ from which wholesale fibre broadband providers can branch out into towns and rural areas of Northumberland at reduced rates so communities can enjoy significantly improved digital connectivity of up to one gigabit per second for gigabit-capable fibre broadband.
It will also futureproof Northumberland’s digital backbone, by building and migrating services on to the new world-class dark fibre digital infrastructure. For instance, Commsworld will utilise the infrastructure established by the recent Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) project funded by the Government through its Project Gigabit, which will result in a significant uplift in internet connectivity for 110 Northumberland schools.
These schools, and others where possible, will be migrated on to the new WAN, providing even more resilience and delivering a further boost to digital learning.
The contract will also see Commsworld work in partnership with the iNorthumberland team at the council, Community Action Northumberland and the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) to tackle digital poverty, alongside digital skills and confidence within the communities of Northumberland.
Cllr Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, said: “This long-term approach marks a new and historic way forward for the council and its positive impact cannot be underestimated. We are one of the first rural counties in England to focus on changing the lives of our communities by not only providing the infrastructure to give them ground-breaking access to full-fibre broadband, but future-proofing the system so it can adapt and grow according to the needs of everyone who lives and works in Northumberland.
“Above all, it will directly tackle digital exclusion, especially for those in our rural areas. Equality of access is vital if we want to improve the lives of all our citizens. Providing access to significantly enhanced internet connections will go a very long way to bridging this digital divide and benefit all our schoolchildren, parents and families, as well as our businesses and organisations.”
Chris Thompson, Director of Information and Technology at Northumberland County Council, said: "I'm delighted that we've been able to secure this deal. It will provide an easily upgradable connectivity boost across our council sites and bring huge social value to the county, helping to make Northumberland one of the best-connected counties."
Bruce Strang, Chief Operating Officer of Commsworld, said: “Commsworld welcomes securing this contract to replace Northumberland’s WAN network. This is our first major contract of this kind in England, having similarly delivered massively enhanced infrastructure to local authorities in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Renfrewshire, North Lanarkshire and the Scottish Borders.
“We are looking forward to bringing the full, transformative benefits of our Optical Core Network to Northumberland. Through the network, and working with our partners – including forward-thinking local fibre providers such as Alncom – we can provide a step change in connectivity and resiliency right across the county, bringing huge benefits to all those who live, learn and work there. I have no doubt that the digital infrastructure we provide will benefit the whole of Northumberland.”