Full fibre broadband is coming to town.

Since the 1990s when the internet first became commonplace in UK homes and workplaces, web technology has consistently developed faster than the services supporting it. Beginning with rickety dial-up connections reliant on the traditional phone network the availability of stable and consistent high-speed connections has been piecemeal and something of a postcode lottery.

Frustrated by the inability of established providers to provide the speed and standard of customer service he needed, Eastbourne resident Ben Ferriman decided to take direct action and create a full fibre network in East Sussex from scratch. “Lightning Fibre was founded out of frustration,” says Ferriman, who trained in telecoms and previously worked as a project manager on large, multi-discipline infrastructure projects in London and Dubai.

MD Ben Ferriman
CREDIT: Lightning Fibre

Moving to Eastbourne with his family at the time of the superfast broadband rollout he discovered a legacy of copper wiring, often the last link between high-speed broadband networks and homes, was holding back internet speeds and creating unreliable connections.

Obviously annoying for an expert, but why do the rest of us need a 10Gbps (gigabytes per second) fibre-to -the-home (FTTP) broadband network? 

Because, in tandem with mobile phones – these days essentially hand-held personal computers – the internet is no longer a luxury. Integral and essential to everyday living, during lockdown it was often the only way to keep in contact with family and friends and vital to those working from home. Factor in banking, shopping, social media, smart homes, video streaming and gaming and there’s an exponentially increasing demand to download and upload data.

Using his industry contacts Ferriman secured private financing (no public money was involved) from UK investors. Subsequently Lightning Fibre began an ambitious infrastructure rollout programme with the ambition of eventually reaching almost every home and business in Hastings, Eastbourne, Hailsham and Heathfield. This network connects Lightning Fibre’s street cabinets directly to user’s modems, using fibre optic cables designed to be hyper-reliable and hyper-fast. 

CREDIT: Dave Young

Despite an agglomeration of early difficulties, such as launching during Covid, silicon chip and skilled local labour shortages, Ferriman claims “the uptake in the first 12 months has smashed sales targets.” Lightning Fibre’s distinctive vehicles have been a familiar sight in and around Hastings and St Leonards over the past year as roads and pavement are excavated to install ducts and fibre.

In addition to “getting the technology right”, Ferriman is also using his years of experience to ensure good customer service by “getting the right people in the right roles.” The firm will shortly move its constantly growing staff to an additional office in Eastbourne – no call centres faraway or abroad, the people answering customer queries will know the area because they live and work here.

Unable to recruit many people with the technical knowledge they require, Lightning Fibre is currently putting a lot of effort into ‘growing their own’ by creating an in-house training academy. “There’s no existing training course out there – full fibre is a young industry,” explains Ferriman. “I want to get the culture right and invest in skills.” There’s also the possibility of career development with some managers having been promoted from within the existing staff teams.

“We want to keep it local,” explains Ferriman, “people can’t afford to commute with rising fares and fuel prices. Around 95% of employees are from the area and spending their wages here – a circular local economy.” Lightning Fibre also pays company taxes in the UK and employs local contractors where possible.There are currently several job vacancies advertised on its website, ranging from trainee roles to more senior, experienced personnel. 

Lightning Fibre reckons there are additional benefits for this determinedly local focus: “The connectivity our full fibre network provides will encourage new companies to invest into the area, creating more jobs and generating additional tax revenue for councils, which goes towards local community services.”  Research has shown that once
an area has a full fibre 1Gbps network, property prices and local economies are “positively impacted”. 

They also claim environmental credentials, quoting studies showing a full fibre optic network releases 88% less greenhouse gas emissions per 1Gbps when compared to other access technologies. 

Following some delays last summer, the new fibre service will gradually come online across the area from Spring ‘22. It’s not restricted to domestic premises, nor even individual homes. Lightning Fibre is working with the housing association Optivo, schools, businesses, churches and can be installed in flats.

In parallel, the company is pursuing an active programme of community engagement. Aware of the possible criticism of ‘green washing’ Ferriman sees the initiative as enlightened self-interest. “As a local business, we’ve done this from the beginning, we’re fully committed to supporting and benefiting the community we all work and live in. It’s the right thing to do.”

In addition to donating to charities in East Sussex, Lightning Fibre takes part in local events and sponsors activities, including  Hastings Athletic FC under 10s and the forthcoming ‘Follow that Duck’ art trail fundraiser for St Michael’s hospice.

Can business have a human heart? We’ll soon find out.

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