Digital Revolution in Birmingham: Delivering the Fibre City



The COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in a global increase in network usage. It changed the way the world operates, and now data-intensive remote working and e-learning have intertwined with what was an already growing level of bandwidth consumption. With 84% of professionals who were working remotely throughout the pandemic period continuing to utilise a hybrid working model, the surge in data demand since COVID-19 shows little sign of plateauing two years later.

For all of the benefits that technology brings us, these modern, digitally reliant, demands on existing infrastructure also create challenges, with limited bandwidth potentially halting or impeding the user experiences of both business and residential users as their reliance on connectivity grows.

This connectivity issue is negatively impacting a number of regions across the UK, and at city level, Birmingham - one of the great hubs of the 18th century’s industrial revolution - has now recognised the growing need for a digital revolution.

Ahead of 2022’s Commonwealth Games, which brought about great economic and cultural opportunities for both the city of Birmingham and the surrounding area, supported by a £778m investment from the UK Government in 2019, this dream of a digital revolution could soon become a reality.

The Challenge of the Fibre City

Glide, a market leader in deploying the fibre infrastructure needed to support ultra-fast broadband services, recognised the growing demand for improved connectivity across the region, and partnered with a range of organisations to deliver users a significantly improved digital experience. There were three primary issues to overcome:

  • Compared to other major UK cities, Birmingham’s network solutions were inadequate, given the rapidly increasing user demands
  • The impact of this was felt amongst the key players in Birmingham’s regional economy, notably businesses and their employees, but also within residential and educational settings across the city
  • Users had outgrown their existing networks. With increasing bandwidth demands, customers needed a network that could grow with them

At the core of everything, Glide was determined to significantly improve the experience for digital users. Glide wanted to grow alongside its local customers, ensuring that their demands could be met in a timely and reliable manner. From a holistic perspective, the ultimate goal was to build a “fibre city” – a metropolitan area with pervasive fibre infrastructure at its core.

Creating the Fibre Ring

Infrastructure is the key to ultra-fast connectivity, and one of Glide’s highest priorities in the city was ownership of the fibre infrastructure that connected its customers. The user experience comes first, and by aligning its infrastructure investment within the city to its long-standing customers, Glide could provide improved speeds and reliability for existing users. It would then also have the capacity to extend this experience to future customers and users.

On top of the improved speeds and reliability for the businesses, residents and educational providers connected to the ring, one significant benefit of the Birmingham fibre ring is that 50% uses Glide’s own underground duct infrastructure. This enables Glide to make upgrades and improvements quickly, but most importantly, in a cost-effective manner, allowing savings to be passed onto its users. Whenever upgrades need to be completed, Glide’s ownership of the infrastructure results in minimal disruption with a significantly reduced financial burden for its customers.

There are also wider benefits to the city. The fibre ring encourages the decentralisation of skills. With accessibility to Glide’s fastest and most reliable network now being less geographically-bound, businesses can operate anywhere within the city but with the same access to bandwidth, benefiting every part of Birmingham’s thriving regional economy.

Tim Pilcher, CEO of Glide, commented: “Rented circuits tend to be capped and congested. With our own dark fibre in the ground, users can consume as much data as they want - multi-gigabit speeds lead to a better user experience. Businesses of all types across the city will benefit from the best possible broadband and Wi-Fi performance.

“Our full-fibre network delivers unrivalled operational efficiency that we can pass onto our customers and users.”

The Role of Dark Dark Fibre

With the challenge of consumer demand outgrowing legacy networks, Glide knew that it needed its network to be scalable. The answer to this was copious dark fibre, owned by Glide, which lays dormant within the fibre ring. With the fibre ring in place, Glide could connect its customers with ease while providing ultra-fast broadband speeds.

As soon as additional capacity is required to optimise the network, Glide can light the dark fibre and seamlessly scale its network - and ultimately, handle any increased demand from Glide customers as and when the need arrives. The network capacity is limitless.

Doubling down on its commitment to providing long-term value to businesses across the region, Glide connected its dark fibre ring with Proximity Data Centres Limited’s Birmingham edge colocation data centre in March 2022. Glide’s dark fibre has enabled Proximity Birmingham (Edge 8) to ensure thousands of businesses across the West Midlands have reliable access to low latency, highly responsive hosted applications and services.

On Glide’s work, John Hall, Managing Director at Proximity Data Centres commented: “The availability of diverse dark fibre connectivity is vital to ensuring our edge colocation customers’ data and applications are always seamlessly and securely available to the users that require them.

"Our connection to Glide’s network means our customers now have an increasing choice of dark fibre routes available to them at our Birmingham facility and straightforward access to carriers and service providers serving the West Midlands region and nationwide with dark fibre and managed lit services.”

Supporting Local Businesses Through Flexspace

Technology is an enabler. In a digital-first world, ultra-fast connectivity is required to make everyday life more enjoyable, efficient and easier. The user experience is paramount. Glide’s fibre ring and dark fibre capabilities both deliver ultra-fast connectivity, and in turn, a highly enjoyable user experience.

Enabling Futurate Professionals

Birmingham’s 80,000 students are another group that Glide has identified as requiring a step-change in capability. Glide realised that reliable, ultra-fast broadband connections that can facilitate the learning patterns of the modern students cohort is vital as they too experience changes to their working and learning patterns.

Moving Forward

Wi-Fi connectivity is now regarded as a utility in today’s digital world. The Birmingham fibre city model provides the city’s residents with reliable, ultra-fast broadband that caters to their ever-growing consumption demands.

Whether it is for work, education of leisure, customers in Birmingham are now receiving an experience that fits their needs completely. Connections are ultra-fast, efficient and cost-effective. More importantly, as technology becomes more intuitive, and as appetites continue to grow, bandwidth needs will continue to increase. Glide’s network is future-proof, and with limitless scalability, the network will continue to deliver the highest quality connections in the long-term for its customers.

Glide’s agile fibre infrastructure provides a solid foundation supporting Birmingham for the future growth opportunities that will surely come its way.