£25m broadband boost for Northern Ireland

Belfast has been named the UK’s most ‘gigafit’ city as a further £24 million is announced by the UK government to level up regions across Northern Ireland with ultra high-speed gigabit broadband.

Tuesday, 29th June 2021, 6:00 am

The city’s gigabit broadband coverage, which is capable of the fastest internet speeds on the market, soared from 42% to 95% in just two years following an £8.5 million UK Government investment.

The Local Full Fibre Network project, delivered by Virgin Media Business, gave broadband upgrades to around 200 tourist venues, community centres, recreational and leisure facilities and other public buildings. The scheme, which has now been completed, also encouraged network builders to extend their roll out to surrounding homes and businesses.

The government has announced it is investing up to £24 million to repeat the success of the scheme in ten local authority areas in Northern Ireland as part of the UK Government’s plan to prioritise ultra high-speed gigabit-capable connections for the most rural and hard-to-reach areas.

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The Full Fibre Northern Ireland (FFNI) scheme will see 969 hospitals, GP surgeries, ambulance and fire stations, community and leisure centres, council offices and other public buildings connected to gigabit-capable networks, helping them operate more efficiently and deliver better quality public services.

Northern Ireland-based network provider Fibrus was awarded £23 million from the FFNI contract, and as a result has announced plans to extend the network to an estimated 150,000 homes and businesses as part of its own £100 million investment. A further £1 million will be used by FFNI to procure relevant network equipment and services to bring the network into operation.

The new funding is on top of the £165 million Project Stratum which will see Fibrus bringing gigabit broadband to 79,000 hard-to-reach homes and businesses across Northern Ireland, backed by £150 million of UK Government investment.

Today the government has also released details of planned improvements to 4G coverage in Northern Ireland, which will see it go neck-and-neck with England, with signal reaching 98 per cent of its geography.

Under the £1 billion Shared Rural Network brokered by the UK Government, 4G from all four MNOs will be accessible across 85 per cent of Northern Ireland, up from 79 per cent in 2020. This means anyone can make a video call or stream a TV show over 4G regardless of which network operator they are with.

Uplifts in 4G coverage and the rollout of gigabit broadband will bring economic and social benefits for people in Northern Ireland’s rural communities, helping power growth and allow people to stay connected, shop online, stream entertainment and work on the go.

UK Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “This broadband boost for Belfast shows our plan to build back better is delivering for people and businesses, and I am thrilled to announce we will allocate £24 million to replicate its success in every region in Northern Ireland.

“The upgrades will push down the throttle on internet speeds at thousands of homes, businesses and public buildings, and thanks to our £1 billion deal with mobile operators, people will have access to fast and reliable connectivity on the move too.”

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said: “The delivery of this Government project is fantastic and welcome news, which will provide a further boost to city and rural broadband reliability for people and businesses across Northern Ireland.

“This significant investment will upgrade access to essential services, through the provision of the infrastructure Northern Ireland needs in order to flourish as part of the UK’s growing digital economy.”

Fibrus chief executive Dominic Kearns added:“We are delighted to have been awarded this significant contract by FFNI. The objectives of this programme directly align with ours – extending full fibre infrastructure into as many areas of NI as possible.

“Delivering this critical infrastructure to all these council and public sector buildings allows us to extend the network further into the surrounding homes and businesses that are in much need of our services.

“At Fibrus we are committed to playing our part in delivering the policy objective of achieving ubiquitous full fibre coverage as set out by the Government and this project will help bring that one step closer.”