Using geographic intelligence to sustainably grow the UK’s broadband network

In 2017 the Government announced an £190 million Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge Fund to boost commercial investment in networks across the UK. Applications are encouraged for projects to enable gigabit capable connections to key public buildings and businesses, plus encourage additional connections to local homes and businesses.

The overall ambition for this initiative is impressive, with an aim to create a nationwide full fibre network by 2033. With funding available for local authority bids, and by extension, private sector infrastructure projects, interest in boosting local digital infrastructure is high. But how do you create a practical bid for such ambitious goals and ensure that it is within your own capabilities to achieve?

We have been approached by a number of clients, looking to harness this government funding to increase their Local Full Fibre Network. The key challenge each of these clients faces is ensuring that the areas they target for expansion will yield sufficient new users to justify the investment in infrastructure, as a short-term grant will not sustain a poorly planned and under-used network. So how can a local authority or network provider identify areas of potential network growth?

Expanding the existing infrastructure

The first step is in identifying existing infrastructure. The ideal scenario is to start with the existing network mapped into a data file such as a KML file. However, if this isn’t an option, it is possible to estimate the route of the existing fibre infrastructure by mapping postcodes of existing users.

Once we have the existing network mapped, it is relatively easy to mark on radii out from these lines to match the level of investment you are willing to commit – do you want to increase the network by 50 metres or 250 metres away from existing lines for example. Initially we would do this as straight-line “crow fly” distances, to give us a rough target area, before profiling the houses and businesses within that radius to assess propensity to take up the new service.

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An example map showing crow fly distances from existing fibre lines.

Sustainable expansion: targeting the right area

The next major challenge is in identifying the potential audience within these target locations. For homes, we can use our own P2 People & Places demographic data to assess likely uptake, but for business customers we need to look further afield. The most cost-effective option is to use the Royal Mail Postcode Address File (PAF) and look at address names to identify potential business customers. However, for a more robust approach, you could invest in Ordnance Survey Point of Interest data (POI) or another specific business data product, which can accurately categorise businesses.

Once all of this data is brought together into a GIS, such as our own Prospex system, you can then assess the viability of extending the Local Full Fibre Network in any given area, identify viable areas that will provide sustainable income, and then craft a grant application using this data to get the project started.

We are enjoying the challenge that these projects provide and look forward to updating you on the real differences that this improved digital infrastructure has on local businesses and communities. If you are considering expanding your infrastructure as part of this, or any other initiative, please get in touch, as we’d love to share our expertise with you.

For full details of the Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) Challenge Fund, visit the fund guidance page on gov.uk

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Prospex GIS mapping software is a cost-effective, flexible, data mapping, visualisation and analysis tool that enhances your business decision making. Read more here...

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