Blackpool leads UK in completing transformational LFFN Project with TNP08/04/2021

Blackpool Council has led the UK rollout of LFFN (Local Full Fibre Network) programmes, completing the work just two years after the award of £3.1m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

Other authorities that received their funding at the same time have not been able to make such rapid progress, but in Blackpool the structure and network foundation was already in place thanks to the authority’s foresight and a strategic partnership with digital network specialist TNP.

Lancaster-based TNP (The Networking People) has worked with Blackpool since 2012 and that early consultancy work and construction of high capacity digital connectivity based on a full fibre network laid the foundations for a new digital integrated-hybrid network infrastructure created and owned by Blackpool Council.

The partnership enabled the Council to procure the LFFN infrastructure quickly, efficiently and cost effectively using transparent ‘open book’ contracts agreed with TNP that guaranteed best value at every stage of the network procurement, implementation and support lifecycle.

The LFFN rollout has now been integrated into the Council’s hybrid network while maintaining the Council’s total access, control and visibility of the digital infrastructure in the town.

Blackpool Council and other public sector bodies on the Fylde Coast including Wyre Council can now connect more of their public building and assets. Through a co-operative commercial arrangement LFFN also brings the benefits of high speed, high capacity broadband to organisations, businesses and residents within the town that would otherwise have no access, fulfilling key objectives of Blackpool’s Digital Strategy.

Partnership with TNP literally gave Blackpool a head start.
Tony Doyle, Blackpool’s Head of ICT was the project lead with support from his department and the wider development team in the Council. He explained: “Blackpool Council would have found it difficult to achieve their objectives within a 2-year timescale without the long-term innovative partnership with TNP. That partnership has enabled asset ownership, consultancy, and the creation of the integrated-hybrid network, built on time and to budget.

“Our existing relationship with TNP gave the Council access to the highest level of network professionals in the UK, with the in-house capability to design, build and operate advanced municipal networks. The agreement also extended to the professional services associated with the development and ongoing running of a network, significantly enhancing Blackpool Council’s capability and capacity to deliver the project.

TNP won a new tender as Blackpool’s Network Partner in 2017. A key part of that new contract was to help the authority secure LFFN funding and to facilitate delivering the network objectives of the bid proposal and the Blackpool Digital Strategy.

As a strategic partner, TNP worked closely with the council to put together the bid that secured £3.1m for LFFN from DCMS in 2018, advising on the detailed content and refining the case to precisely meet the Government’s criteria and funding gateways.

The Council retained ownership control, access and visibility of the fully integrated hybrid network, while TNP provided the necessary technical expertise and regulatory framework to deliver the services.

The network, and the expertise offered by the Council’s framework agreement partnership with TNP, is also accessed by the neighbouring local authorities, key stakeholders in the NHS and Higher/Further Education plus education academy organisations.

The need for LFFN in Blackpool…..
The LFFN fund is pitched at new and innovative approaches to broadband roll-out that encourage additional private sector investment in fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband. Under the “Public Sector Asset Reuse” model the public funding is used to build a network for public sector use. Private sector investment in additional capacity on the network can then be used to connect neighbourhood homes and businesses.

Blackpool Council presented a perfect location for LFFN action with two priorities for achieving Blackpool’s digital infrastructure strategy; increasing tourism, industry and commerce & creating stronger communities and increased resilience.

A key element for maximising growth and opportunity across Blackpool is a digital infrastructure in the town’s two enterprise zones at Blackpool Airport and Hillhouse, where Full Fibre to Premises is needed to attract new businesses.

Local fibre combined with the transatlantic connectivity enables round trip data speeds of sub 60 milliseconds to New York via a major artery of the Internet connecting America and Europe. This advanced capability provides a unique opportunity for digital businesses and Internet companies to invest in Blackpool because the fibre speed and fibre capacity rivals the huge mainland UK data centre hubs in Slough serving London.

There is also a pressing need to provide improved digital access for more than 140,000 residents in the area – evidenced by the fact that pre 2018 only one Blackpool postcode had access to 300Mb/s + internet connectivity speeds. Other business advantages include enhancing the visitor / guest / conference/ resort experience to compete globally, and offering businesses/ guest houses/ hotels the chance to modernise and compete in the digital age.

Access to high capacity digital infrastructure in conference venues and across the resort is likely to attract more and higher value conferences – a major contributor to the Blackpool economy – and compliments investments in new hotel/apartment construction, leisure attractions and improved transportation.

In addition, the new LFFN infrastructure supports smarter transport and car parking to again improve the guest experience, benefit the environment and reduce congestion, and opens up greater opportunities for developing digital attractions and digital illuminations – a signature Blackpool attraction.

Priority upgrades to public sector assets are also now achievable through LFFN. In addition to the enterprise zones, upgrades are taking place for the Council-operated Blackpool Airport, leisure assets including the Tower, Winter Gardens and Madam Tussauds, the Illuminations management and control, hotels & guest houses fronting the promenade, and the CCTV camera network and ‘smart’ tramstops.

Blackpool also offered the advantage that much of the foundation had already been built, in terms of miles of fibre laid underground, hubs and data centres built and operational, and public buildings and businesses connected to the network with the benefits of high speed, high capacity internet access.
However, Blackpool still required substantial investment to take the resort’s digital revolution to the next stage, enabling connections to more businesses, guest accommodation and private homes.

The Council used an innovative co-operative model to open up the network for investment by telecoms operators and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to create and share additional capacity.

Tony Doyle says: “The open access infrastructure designed and built by TNP for the Council facilitates easy use of the digital hybrid network by other ISPs and telco companies which are members of the Co-operative Network chosen by the Council to develop and share the network. Co-operative members market and enable use of the services to bridge the ‘last 100 metre’ connections to the digital network.”

Blackpool Council adopted the pragmatic ‘thin layer model’ pioneered in Tameside and endorsed by the Government to facilitate rapid deployment of new full fibre infrastructure.
The ‘thin layer model’ enables Blackpool and its public sector partners to invest in new infrastructure assets where a business case can be made to meet needs. Those assets are sewn together to form a coherent, integrated infrastructure that can be shared using a co-operative. Each investment is justified by a standalone business case but by linking assets together into a shared network, the business case benefits are multiplied.

Tony Doyle adds: “This means that Blackpool and our public sector partners on the Fylde Coast including Wyre Council can connect more public building and assets. It also enables other co-operative members to connect many businesses that would otherwise not have access to high speed broadband. The Council also works closely with the co-operative to establish ‘dig once’ principles wherever possible minimising disruption for residents and businesses, avoiding unnecessary overbuild by private sector competitors and enabling both the public and private sector full fibre investments to go further.

“Moreover, the fully integrated hybrid network that now exists in Blackpool is ready for further expansion when additional funding is secured, extending the fibre network and high-speed internet access to rural areas such as those under Wyre and Fylde Councils, which are neighbouring district councils to the Blackpool Unitary Authority and have a long tradition of partnership and collaboration on the Fylde Coast.”

Creating the new LFFN…..
Blackpool Council already owned and operated a diverse, resilient hybrid telecoms network across its area prior to LFFN.

A comprehensive dark fibre network spanned the town centre and the 20km coastal tramway from the southern boundary to the northern end of the coast and the neighbouring authority of Wyre Council at Fleetwood. The tramway fibre was completed early in 2018 under the ‘dig once’ model that allowed upgrading of the tram system SCADA network to assist in the funding of a fibre communications infrastructure.

All of the Council’s building and locations (including schools) are connected to a resilient dark fibre core network, Openreach-based telephone exchange infrastructure and carrier class microwave communications equipment.

Extending, augmenting and maximising the existing network and tramway ducting meant Blackpool Council could increase connectivity to its buildings and assets, those of the neighbouring authority and other public sector partners, plus stimulate business growth by enabling high capacity digital connectivity. Gigabit connection vouchers are being used to increase business take-up.

Blackpool’s Digital Strategy also embraces the opportunity to interconnect with the sub-sea fibre infrastructure for Dublin, Belfast, the Isle of Man and the North Atlantic Loop (interconnecting New York, Dublin, Blackpool, Newcastle and Scandinavia) submarine cable coming ashore next to the tramway which is the spine of the network.

In addition, the technical architecture of the existing network lends itself to easy interconnection and backhaul requirements for a 5G infrastructure.

Blackpool Council successfully designed, implemented and managed a network consisting of dark fibre, telephone exchange assets and rented fibre/copper circuits that delivered connectivity to around 150 locations across the town. The dark fibre tramway network now incorporates 39 tramstops/breakout points/ Points of Presence (PoPs) which cross the carriageway and are in optimised locations to take the network inland.

These PoP cabinets provide interconnection facilities for third party fibre and ISP providers to utilise spare capacity and interconnect with the fibre infrastructure at speeds of 1Gb/s and 10Gb/s efficiently and securely, ensuring that the Council core network is not compromised.

Enabling the infrastructure for asset reuse comprised of installing additional node points that allow for “meet me” locations for third party providers such as ISPs and telecoms carriers, thus giving access to backhaul facilities and point to point high capacity fibre.

To maximise the capacity on the Council’s original digital infrastructure and new LFFN, TNP has employed wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) that combines multiple signals on laser beams at various wavelengths for transmission along fibre optic cables. This will allow for flexibility and capacity above that offered by a basic and passive fibre optic technology.

The Council engaged with the Government’s Barrier Removal Taskforce on developing a mechanism to ensure that ‘state aid’ issues were fully addressed through the structure of the co-operative ensuring the market for re-sellers and market connectivity was engaged on a compliant basis without unfair advantage.

For more details, read the full LFFN whitepaper

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