The fibre-flooded isle: Dave Newbold, JT & ‘Gigabit Jersey’

newbold 3Although it only measures in at around nine miles by five, Jersey yet manages approximately 2% of the world’s wealth. Perhaps it makes sense for a unique place to give birth to a unique telco – JT is certainly that…

“Our incumbent markets are in the Channel Islands – so that’s 150,000 people, very small,” explains Dave Newbold, JT’s Chief Operations & Technology Officer, ahead of his appearance at the Broadband World Forum in October. “But of course it is also an off-shore banking centre, so our enterprise demands are pretty much the same as those in much larger markets, be it the City of London or Tokyo or New York.”

The precariousness of any dependency on banking, however, was amply demonstrated by this century’s opening decade: for JT, the aftermath of the financial crisis resulted in ‘Gigabit Jersey,’ the project to make Jersey the fastest residential network in the western world.

“The States of Jersey Government felt that it really needed to develop another sector – not to replace financial services, but to grow alongside financial services – and the digital sector is ideal for that. Mainly because the island is not very big, the lifestyle is very good, and it’s got a fantastic demographic to commercially test things. So it was felt that the digital sector, being low footprint, was the right sort.”

As such, it was down to JT to provide a suitably inviting telecoms infrastructure. “A big bank like HSBC would already have its high capacity fibre connections, but of course that’s high volume, high price, high reliability, high redundancy etc., so not something that a smaller or medium-sized business could afford to participate in. We wanted an infrastructure that would enable smaller businesses that were very digital in nature to grow on the island. We wanted to remove the access network from being an inhibitor to those companies being successful.”

Above and beyond this economic diversification, Newbold argues that the necessity of facilitating higher and higher levels of bandwidth is obvious. “Even looking at basic stuff – if you want Ultra HD delivery from Netflix, you’re going to have to have 25 meg. Frankly a copper line with a few people running across the same cable isn’t going to deliver that. If you’re going to make any sort of investment, make it for the long term.”

For JT, this long range view meant fibre. (And as such, Newbold should have an interesting contribution to make at this year’s Broadband World Forum think tank debate, provocatively titled ‘Is Satellite the Answer to Reaching 100% Coverage?’)

“We’ve covered about 95% by distance on the island with our core fibre network, but those subscribing to fibre are now well over 30%, so that pushes us right up very high with markets that started deploying fibre many years before we did. On this sort of island, satellite is not an answer for delivering our high bandwidth services.”

JT’s ability to install fibre at a reasonable cost, however, has been critical to its success. “The premises on Jersey were ducted many years ago, a programme of taking copper access off of poles and putting it in holes and then ducting all the way to the customer’s premise was quite significant, because we require far fewer civil works to actually deliver the fibre. So our cost of delivery is probably 30% of that of many others. The only civil works we have to do is where a duct is broken or blocked.”

Nonetheless, mass installation presents a predictable array of challenges. “Some customers have built over the entry point, or a customer has done some extension work and collapsed the ducts. Then once you’re inside the battleground is very much around how you get Wi-Fi around the premise. I think if there was one thing we perhaps could have done a little bit more work on – but you only perhaps realise much of this once you start it – it was the complexity of installing within each premise at a reasonable cost.”

JT’s ambitions for its incumbent markets don’t end with fibre, as Newbold’s plans for the Broadband World Forum make clear.

“I’m going to try and suck up as much knowledge as possible around connected home, because I do see quite an opportunity there. That is, connected home for the high end users. On Jersey and Guernsey we have a pretty decent percentage of ultra-rich: and of course those ultra-rich generally buy this sort of stuff and it’s customised to them.”

By the sounds of it, JT is going to ensure Jersey remains on the cutting edge for some time to come…


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