Hosted by alternative infrastructure provider CityFibre, at Franklins Gardens, the event gave local stakeholders the opportunity to share their digital ambitions for Northampton and discuss how the town’s transformation into a Gigabit City could help it overcome the pressure on its existing legacy communications infrastructure.
It also highlighted the role full-fibre connectivity plays in terms of Northampton’s competitiveness, growth and future resilience as demand for digital services grows and rival cities and nations race ahead in terms of fibre investment.
Marc Lough, city development manager at CityFibre said: “Upgrading the town’s digital infrastructure is an opportunity to future-proof the area as our lives and work environments move increasingly online.
"This was a great opportunity to bring businesses leaders and stakeholders together across the community to discuss their digital future.
"The economic potential for Northampton is huge.”
Last year the town was named the best place for start-ups outside London in the Centre for Cities’ Outlook report. If the area is to continue to attract this level of growth and investment, it is important that future-proofed digital infrastructure is in place to meet its needs now and in the future, Mr Lough said.
Northampton Borough Council leader Cllr Jonathan Nunn, who took part in the panel discussion, said: “The prosperity of the town relies on ensuring that businesses can get the facilities they need so we can retain and attract highly-skilled jobs. The ball is in our court.”
Attendees agreed that improving the current connectivity offering should be made a greater priority. W
hen discussing options, an upgrade to full-fibre made the most sense as it would not only provide a future-proofed solution to growing bandwidth constraints but also would underpin the development of smart city innovations such as public WiFi, smart street lighting, HD CCTV and 4G and 5G upgrades.
Northampton Saints commercial director Brian Facer said there is a need for improved connectivity in the area. “Demand for connectivity is growing as use of devices linked to the internet increases.
"The club has already made substantial investment but the current service is restricting growth.
“We would like to do more but not having a bandwidth that can cope has been a challenge. If the service goes down our business literally grinds to a halt.”
Rob Purdie, regional policy lead for the Federation of Small Businesses, added: “Many small businesses are home-based. Cyber security is a real issue and connectivity is absolutely critical.”
Speakers also discussed the hotly anticipated Local Government Shared Services tender.
Covering the council bodies of Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Milton Keynes, the tender creates an opportunity for public sector transformation, cost savings, economic growth and a digital boost to businesses and residents.
However, for this to happen the procurement outcomes need to ensure a full-fibre outcome in urban areas, such as Northampton, as a minimum.
Former MP and a SEMLEP board director Brian Binley warned: “If we do not have this infrastructure then we are running a real risk of not providing the 60,000 jobs.
“We need to make sure that the people at LGSS are listening to our plea. We need to think of connectivity as a utility, it is essential for the future growth of jobs. Bandwidth and speed are no longer a luxury; it is a necessity for those who want to run a business.”
Martin Kemp, CityFibre’s head of public sector, said: “The forthcoming launch of the Local Full-Fibre Network Fund by the Department of Culture Media and Sport has been set up to help local authorities transition from old infrastructure to brand new full-fibre. This creates a perfect opportunity for LGSS to procure the additional benefits that an investment in full-fibre brings.
“Full-fibre is a spring board for private sector investment as well as delivering choice, competition and resilience for Northampton.”
Charlotte Patrick, key sector and knowledge transfer manager at the University of Northampton, said: “Everything is digital now, all the systems for the university are online, so unless you have access, you cannot access anything.
"The new model for the new campus is based on more remote learning because it is not at the capacity of the old university, so the cultural shift in learning is going to be quite critical.
"And the way in which the student engage. Connectivity will play a huge part in this.”
Churches Shoes head of IT David Moss added: “We have the cream of the motor sport industry based in Northampton, top high end manufacture, it should be a given that we should have the infrastructure that matches it.
“How can we have these leading manufacturers based in Northampton with poor connectivity? It quite often will drive these small businesses to grow organically.”