Enterprise M3 local enterprise partnership is leading major improvements to digital connectivity in towns and villages across Surrey and Hampshire

A project to deliver gigabit-capable broadband for business and communities across Surrey and Hampshire is being taken a significant step forward as private sector firms are being invited to express an interest in bidding for the work.

Access to gigabit-capable broadband would transform current digital services allowing, for example, a high-definition film to be downloaded in under a minute. 

Enterprise M3 Local Enterprise Partnership (EM3 LEP), which has led this project from the outset, is embarking on the first stages of a procurement to build and operate 94 km of new digital infrastructure stretching from North Hampshire into West Surrey. 

The infrastructure, which will initially run from Basingstoke to Guildford taking in Hook, Camberley, Aldershot, Farnborough, and Farnham, involves laying new cables to provide a step change in the speed and reliability of digital communications matching levels available in major urban areas. 

EM3 LEP Chief Executive, Kathy Slack, said, “This project exemplifies two of the most important roles of LEPs: a visionary focus on business needs and the mobilising of partnerships to make things happen. EM3 LEP is a committed leader of this project because we know how important robust and future proofed digital connectivity is to business success, the delivery of outstanding public services, and attracting investors into our area.”

There is very strong demand for these higher speeds among businesses and residents in Hampshire and Surrey. Work undertaken for the LEP has demonstrated how many existing businesses across the EM3 area are being held back and their growth and innovation activities frustrated by the poor services currently available.

As an example, the ei² team has many years’ experience in software consultancy. They have worked in a wide variety of industry sectors including investment banking, telecommunications, travel, defence, housing, pharmaceutical and education. Regional inconsistencies in the speed of broadband are a problem for them and their clients:

An ei² spokesperson said: “In our business we have many contractors that are working remotely and so quickly moving data between them and the client is paramount. Depending on where the contractor and the client are located this can be quite variable and can adversely affect productivity in our business and our ability to serve clients. If we could have access to fast connectivity across the region it would help us to remove these inconsistencies and provide a more efficient service to our clients.”

TVision, one of the UK’s largest and most experienced providers of Microsoft Dynamics 365 solutions, highlight the cost of having to compensate for a current broadband service that can’t keep up with capacity demand:

A TVision spokesperson said: “In our business we hold a lot of code as data so making sure we don’t lose anything is crucial. We have to take regular back-ups to avoid this but the amount of data is growing all the time so back-ups in the Cloud are very attractive for us. However, even though we have access to 60Mbps broadband it still takes too long for us to back-up data in the Cloud. Our only answer for back-up today is to invest in local, on premises equipment.”

EM3 LEP is now starting to explore the interest among potential investors and contractors to build out and operate the new infrastructure which will give commercial broadband and mobile providers the opportunity to increase the services they offer and enable them to extend those services to areas that to date have not been commercially viable. 

EM3 LEP has completed detailed design and modelling work on the new digital infrastructure identifying where there is demand for enhanced services along the route including more than 90 towns, villages, business parks, residential developments, major public service buildings, data centres and other points of interest.

NGIS are technical and commercial advisers for the project. As CEO, Rob Leenderts, explains an attraction for investors is that much of the preparation work has been done: 

“The EM3 fibre spine represents an excellent opportunity to invest in a solution where much of the hard work in terms of survey and design has already been completed – and if the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything it is that the value and need for Gigabit connectivity is immense. 

The detailed planning and design work, coupled with demand modelling, and support from local highways teams will mean that operators can instead focus faster on delivering more “last mile” connections, so that as many people in the area as possible can be offered high-speed, high-quality services. It also allows investors to participate in something that is urgently needed without having to fund the full cost.” 

EM3 is working closely with many local authorities across Surrey and Hampshire. Work on installing the gigabit- capable network is expected to start by the middle of 2022 and be completed within eighteen months. As sections of the route are finished, they can be brought into operation so that businesses and residents do not have to wait for improved services until the entire route has been built out.

Potential contractors or other organisations interested in learning more about EM3 Gigabit Project an find out more at https://inbound.enterprisem3growthhub.co.uk/fibre or contact –fibre@enterprisem3.org.uk

ABOUT ENTERPRISE M3 LEP (EM3)

EM3 is business-led and brings together the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in a joint endeavour to drive prosperity for the people and places in our region.

As a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), we receive funds from government and leverage additional private sector investment in order to make strategic investments to create, nurture and sustain the right conditions for economic growth in our area.