Boosting the broadband hopes of rural areas in the county that are difficult to reach by traditional methods, three firms are set to offer alternative technologies.
As reported in the Gazette, the county council’s iNorthumberland project has set up a £1.3million loans scheme to to encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs)offering wireless satellite broadband or other alternative technologies to come into the county.
And now contracts have been signed with three providers – QSat Broadband UK, Avonline and Briskona.
Introducing the scheme in January, Stephen Gray, iNorthumberland programme director, described it as a ‘win-win situation all round’.
“The SMEs win because they can get into difficult-to-reach areas,” he said.
“It’s a win for the consumer and business that can immediately get better broadband and, of course, it’s a win for us on two counts. One is we encourage new companies to come in and in some cases new jobs will come in. The second big win is that we get out there to the last 10 per cent and ironically, we do that first not last.”
Here are the three companies that have linked up with the county council to offer alternative broadband services:
Q Sat offers satellite broadband via a KA band satellite called Hylas 1 – the first of this type of broadband satellite to be launched in Europe.
They describe it as the difference between FM radio and medium and long wave.
The chairman of the company is ex-footballer Niall Quinn, who got involved after moving back to Ireland when he left his role as chairman of Sunderland FC.
He bought a house in the country and became frustrated with the coverage he received before testing the new technology, which he describes as a ‘game-changer’.
Speaking to the Gazette, Mr Quinn explained that they wanted to be part of this scheme to ‘use people’s confidence in the council’ rather than doing lots of advertising.
“It’s a win-win for the council; they have numerous complaints about when broadband’s going to arrive and they have found a company that can do it.
“Northumberland was an ideal place to come to because of the lack of connectivity compared to other counties.
“It’s a vital part of everyday life and we can make a difference. We can help Northumberland’s council with its quest to bring broadband.”
Mr Quinn added that his experiences in Ireland make him fully aware of the issues.
“The advantages of living in the countryside can be negated by a lack of connectivity and we can bridge the gap,” he said.
“The reality for us is that all the things people can do in the cities, we can bring to the table at a reasonable speed.”
Gazette readers who call Q Sat on 0845 4340420 before close of business on Thursday, May 9, and quote Northumberland Gazette will get full installation for the reduced price of £49.
Plus Q Sat is so confident in its service that customers can cancel their contract within 30 days if they’re not completely satisfied. It also guarantees Northumberland customers that if fibre arrives in their area at any time during their Q Sat contract, and they are not satisfied with the service, they may end their contract, no quibbles.
Looking to the future, there is the possibility that Q Sat will use this scheme as a springboard to setting up a base in the North East – making it its UK centre and bringing jobs to the region.
Avonline has been involved in telecommunications for 30 years and in satellite broadband for more than a decade, but for much of that time it’s been a last option for a small number of customers.
Now with the new KA band technology, the company believes it is offering a product which is gaining wider and wider acceptance.
Managing director Mark Wynn said: “All of the services we offer have genuine 20Mbps download and 6Mbps upload speeds. The biggest challenge is awareness of where satellite plays its part in the spectrum of services.
“The Northumberland scheme is unique in its creativity in that it’s not using Government or EU funding, it’s just using the borrowing power of the council to say we can go out to the market and say to people that aren’t going to benefit from BDUK, here are some options.”
He said that Avonline may not even take up the loan offer, its main goal was collaboration with the council.
“We genuinely take the view that by the time the BDUK roll-out has taken place, our service (speed and price) will be comparable with the BDUK service available to the larger majority,” said Mark.
Avonline’s service tends to have an upfront cost of £125 to £250 for installation, but it is going to look at reducing that to £49.95 and adding a supplement of around £5 to the monthly bills.
Mark said: “It’s not complicated for the customer, it’s not complicated for Avonline and it’s pretty straightforward for the council.
“I think a lot of other councils may look at this and I would be surprised if we don’t see other councils adapting this scheme over the next few months.”
Briskona wants to bring its pan-European experience with rural customers to Northumberland and not just in terms of broadband connectivity.
Managing director Steve Bluff told the Gazette that the company will be setting up a local team and is in discussions with the county council to take up premises via its development company Arch.
“It will have the backing of a Europe-wide team, but it will be local numbers, local offices, local accents and local knowledge,” he said.
“Fibre only goes to the millimetre it is connected to. Fibre is high capacity and low coverage and wireless used to be low capacity and high coverage. Now it’s high capacity and high coverage.
“It’s the smaller, more agile companies that are passionate about rural solutions that have an opportunity.”
In terms of services, Briskona will look to provide a trio of broadband, telephony and television where required, while it will also look at installing wifi hotspots, working with communities and tourist attractions. The idea is that a Briskona account would enable wifi access throughout the county via a network of hotspots.
Mr Bluff said that high-speed broadband was the start and it was about what to do with it next that’s key.
He also added his support for the iNorthumberland project’s innvovation.
“We have been working on this all around the UK and we have found that Northumberland County Council has been the most interactive,” he said.