Unfolding plans 163 – Durham City connectivity

Superfast broadband connectivity across Durham and the region has been a big issue for us.  The Digital Durham programme has been running for a few years now.  Indeed our first ever cabinet to go live was number 56 just around the corner from Next in the centre of the city.   That was a good day when it went live.  It was in the middle of December and it was an early Christmas present to us all.  We laid on Tony’s brass band and a small buffet.  The press ran with the story as the great and good had come along to cut the ribbon.  We still had the bus back then.

That was at the end of 2013 and since then we’ve added a further three hundred and forty eight DSLAMs (digital subscriber line aggregation multiplexer – or second green cabinet) passing over nearly eighty thousand properties.  Things are really cranking along.

This week though I was asked to attend a meeting of the Durham City Board to give them an update on connectivity within the city and not just broadband. They were interested in mobile coverage as well as wireless.  It’s always good to have the opportunity to talk, especially as it is one of my favourite topics and so I was looking forward to the meeting.  It was held in Grey College, up by the Botanical Gardens and somewhere I had never been to before.

Separating out information about the city from the county was a challenge before I even got underway.  A lot of the intelligence we have is county wide.  Durham City is small with less than fifty thousand people.  Reading, the UK’s largest town by comparison has almost a quarter of a million people.  Our area is unusual compared to our more urban neighbours where the central area accounts for the majority of residents.  Durham City accounts for only a tenth of the population of the County.

I started by talking about how the superfast, mobile and wireless markets are retail driven.   There are ten times more homes than business premises and it’s the transformation in this market that is setting the pace.  Business demand is not as vibrant.  Take up of broadband services lags behind more residential areas.  The larger businesses and the high-street multiples tend to look after themselves.  Smaller businesses are a different story however.  Interestingly of the seventy six market traders in Durham only eleven had some form of online presence. There is still some work to do here.

Overall broadband availability is good.  By the summer of next year there will be a few hundred properties on the wrong side of the divide across the Durham Area Action Partnership area.  Mobile coverage is good as well with 3G available from several providers and 4G from a smaller number.  5G might be nice.  Wireless is not ubiquitous although there are several schemes underway to make improvements.

I brought the group up to speed on other things of interest such as Smart Stanley, Ultrafast broadband and the Mobile Infrastructure Programme.

In the end I had a good story to tell. The supply side of the market is looking good yet we have some work to do to improve demand in the business sector.

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