Greater Manchester set for highest digital data speeds in UK


Greater Manchester’s local authorities have issued a major £32m tender request to enable high-speed, “full-fibre” data connectivity at public sector sites across the city-region.

Described as futureproof, “full fibre to the premises” (FFTP) broadband has no speed or bandwidth limit. Through the tender, over 1300 public sector sites across Greater Manchester will be connected up with up to 450km of new full-fibre cables, ready to send and receive high-speed digital data.

Such wholesale implementation by the public sector is expected to trigger significant additional private finance investment of over £200m from a private sector that will be keen to capitalise on the upgrade and deliver similar connections to business and residential customers.

When combined with the predicted private sector investment, the project is expected to lead to an increase of full-fibre coverage from 3% now to around 25% within three years, giving Greater Manchester the best high-speed digital infrastructure coverage of any city-region in the UK.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “Connecting Greater Manchester’s public sector sites in this way will supercharge our digital capacity and trigger major private investment. As well as revolutionising our online public services, it will provide a huge boost to Greater Manchester’s economy and productivity, cementing our position as one of the leading digital city-regions in Europe.”

The largest project of its kind in the UK, the tender request is based on the collective requirements of eight of the ten Greater Manchester local authorities, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, and Transport for Greater Manchester. Outside of this tender, Tameside and Manchester councils are also actively investing in full-fibre connectivity and sharing part of the £23.8M successfully secured by Greater Manchester as part of the Government’s Local Full Fibre Network initiative.

As part of the tender, public sector bodies will be given access to the network for at least 20 years.

Andrew Western, GMCA digital city region lead said: “The full-fibre high-speed data network will have a transformational impact on digital infrastructure in Greater Manchester. It opens opportunities to better connect public services, for future Internet of Things and 5G uses, and will enable more dynamic management of the transport network, including faster response times to manage real-time incidents and traffic flow.

“We are also committed to encouraging wider full-fibre investment across the city-region by minimising construction costs for all providers through our GM Prospectus, which will create standardised wayleaves and harmonise regulations between our local authorities.”

Interested suppliers are being asked to register their interest and respond to a qualification questionnaire before May 13, 2019. Shortlisted suppliers will then be invited to submit an initial tender followed by negotiation workshops if necessary.

The Combined Authority hopes to be in a position to award contracts in September 2019.

The tender request is being supported by, and comes on the back of, Greater Manchester’s successful bid to central government’s Department for Digital Culture, Media and Sport’s Local Full Fibre Networks Programme in March 2018, for £23.8m of funding to install full-fibre capability at public sites across the city region.

Investing in fibre networks in this way is expected to encourage further private sector investment of over £200m and could be worth over £2.1bn to the Greater Manchester economy over the next 15 years.