2019 was the year when the world realised the importance of being connected more than ever. This was the time when lockdowns finally ended. However, the importance of connectivity and the dependence on digital services have become firmly established – whether at home, on the go, or in the office.
It was June 2021 when two of the biggest telecommunications companies in the UK decided to join forces with one mission – Levelling Up the UK. The UK ranked 8th out of 24 OECD countries in the digital connectivity index in 2021. Improving mobile and broadband networks and utilising digital tools were crucial for promoting economic growth and aligning with the UK’s Levelling Up strategy. The newly formed conglomerate found that if the UK becomes the leader on the Digital Connectivity Index by 2026, it would unlock £69.78 billion in extra GDP. This would create an additional 510,000 new jobs and contribute towards higher economic growth.
To harness such a large opportunity, the key element was the relentless pursuit of innovation and technological advancement. This could only be achieved through upgrading network infrastructure to enable the usage of new-age technologies like Industry 4.0 and 5G.
The message was loud and clear
The move towards standalone 5G technology will pave the way for advanced capabilities like network slicing, ultra-low latency, and the capacity to manage massive amounts of data. This independent network will allow for development of new and innovative services and applications for individuals and enterprises, such as Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), and other immersive experiences.
Knowing this, the next step for the service provider was – build the digital infrastructure the UK needs
Building digital Infrastructure UK needs
The service provider recognised the importance of collaborating with the Government and regulators across industries to establish the necessary digital infrastructure in the UK. They plan to invest a minimum of £10bn over the next five years to implement gigabit speeds, expand their network, and extend 5G coverage to additional regions of the country. With a huge opportunity ahead of them, they were focused on the goal of upgrading the UK and reimagining connectivity. They knew their investment will turn up the dial on the national recovery, help the country to climb up the international connectivity league tables and create a brighter, more prosperous future for every corner of the UK.
They were now in search of a technology partner who could help them build this massive digital infrastructure and enable high-speed internet connectivity for ~15mn homes in the UK to enable 5G services.
Search began for a partner to custom design solutions
STL has been serving its customers in UK and Europe for the past many years. We have set up two manufacturing units in Italy for faster lead times and a continuous supply chain in UK and Europe. Engineers at STL approached the service provider with a proposal for building infrastructure for them and helping them ‘Upgrade the UK’. The service provider put a challenge in front of our engineers. They had a fully ducted network already in place, and they wanted us to custom-design optical connectivity solutions that could leverage the network’s multigigabit capability and deliver broadband speeds above 2 Gbps. The service provider wanted to rollout the new network faster and optimise the total cost of ownership.
The challenge in front of us was to design optical connectivity solutions specially adapted to and co-developed with the service provider’s network needs. The challenge for the network build was to have a solution that allows very fast deployment as there was fierce competition to build the network faster than your competitor. In conjunction with the multiple networks being built simultaneously, construction resources were limited and we had to compete with other network builders. So developing a solution that deals with these realities was a must in the co-development.
STL’s unique connectivity solution was an answer to this
Our engineers deep-dived into the customer’s unique requirements. They custom-designed and co-developed an IP68-rated connectivity solution – Opto-CRS, fibre optic joint enclosures and Drop Cable Port and Connector Systems. IP68 is the highest ingress protection rating for a fibre optic connector. This ensures that joint enclosures are available in 2-24 fibre count and completely weatherproof against dust and water through a multitude of temperatures and fluctuations. They also provide high compatibility across different network architectures. STL’s Opto CRS is an IP68 Enclosure with 2 Network ports and 12 IP68 Drop Cable Ports and Connector Ruggedized System for Underground and Aerial Networks (PIA Networks). These boxes are tested for IP68 upto 2 meters water head. Even if the port is left open, the system will be shielded against water thanks to the 2 layers of water blocks in the design. This also ensures it will be protected against extreme temperatures (-40 ̊ to +70 ̊C Operating temperature).
Our engineers ensured service providers that this will help them rollout networks faster (from its existing fully-ducted network) and optimise its total cost of ownership. Additionally, the Drop Cable Port and Connector system will bring modularity to network design through its plug-and-play features and simplify field operations for FTTx deployments. This allows to decrease the skill level of the installer and speed up the network deployment. Some of the installation challenges and complexities are transferred to a factory environment where it is easier to control the quality of labour, and it is easier to scale to the deployment needs.
The impact – Upgradation of the UK in full swing
In the span of 2 years, ~21000 km of optical cable and connectivity solution has been deployed at the customer’s network sites. STL’s end-to-end optical solution is enabling FTTx deployments for homes and businesses across the UK. Our purpose-engineered optical interconnect offering is delivering faster, better quality and future-fit full-fibre networks and contributing to UK’s ambitious digital journey.
In these 2 years, the service provider has invested ~£2bn in network buildout, upgrading 4G across more than 390,000 postcodes. It has completed the rollout of gigabit speeds across the entire network, being the first provider in the UK to do so. With STL’s robust network buildout, the service provider is delivering on 5G rollout, with coverage across more than 450 towns and cities – each with over 50% population coverage.
With solid network foundations for the future, they provided millions of people with access to much better connectivity.
Now, they are relentlessly exploring new ways to enhance live experiences using 5G-led innovations.
Together, we have achieved what is required to connect the nation with the latest technologies and applications that will shape the future of the digital economy. This will empower the upcoming generation to thrive and contribute towards building a better, greener UK.