The future is now

June 4, 2019

The North Atlantic Loop project is set to make Newcastle the UK’s leading player in terms of digital connectivity, with the region hailed as being 1000 kilometres closer to New York than ever before. Deborah Johnson meets John Wilson, from Stellium DataCenters, to learn more about the transformational effect it’s set to have on the region

Travelling from New York to Newcastle in 66 milliseconds may sound a bit far-fetched and the stuff of futuristic dreams, but that is precisely what is set to happen through the creation of the North Atlantic Loop, the first of the new generation of advanced fibre optic networking.

With data travelling at 130,000 miles per second – not quite achieving the speed of light – through the creation of this ambitious new project, Newcastle is set to be a leading player in the UK in terms of its connectivity, with businesses here soon able to take advantage of a superior high capacity network than anywhere else in the country, including London. Currently, the City of London only achieves connection speeds to New York of around 75 milliseconds.

The North Atlantic Loop involves the creation of the first of a new generation of Transatlantic cable routes from the US to Northern Europe through the UK – the Stellium campus on North Tyneside – giving the region faster and more reliable digital connectivity, and making it hugely appealing for inward investors and data-rich businesses looking to expand or relocate to the region.

Hailed as one of the key opportunities within the digital sector in the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Strategic Economic Plan, the project becoming reality is now only months away. The loop will be tested by the end of the year, with it set to go live in the first quarter of 2020.

Stellium DataCenters, based behind a ring of security on Cobalt Business Park, is the largest purpose-built data campus in the UK, at more than 200,000 sq ft and with 12 data halls and uniquely served with 80MW of power from two local UK Grid points. Working in partnership with AquaComms – the company pioneering the North Atlantic Loop – having chosen the Stellium campus as it’s only UK data centre Cable Landing Station – Stellium, and indeed the North East, will play a pivotal role in the project. The United States will be connected via Dublin and Blackpool, with optical fibres then feeding through to the Stellium campus to a beach landing at Seaton Sluice for onward connection to Esbjerg in Denmark with data for internet service providers, cloud service providers and social media networks passing through the region.

John Wilson, chief operating officer at Stellium, believes the opportunities for the region are huge, but businesses must embrace them and take advantage.

“This is now only months away and we are now talking about it because it’s real, it’s happening, it’s in sight. The North East has a burgeoning tech scene and without doubt, digital connectivity is the new driver of the economy, in this region and around the world, and Newcastle is going to be pivotal within the North Atlantic Loop,” says John, who has previously held senior roles at IBM and Fujitsu.

“The region is certainly not short of people with brains and ambition, but it is short on connectivity. Airbnb or Uber were never going to start in the North East as we don’t have the connectivity,

but we are helping to take the barriers away for businesses to then take the lead. But now, as the Americans say, it’s about ‘focus and execute’. This is where the story starts.

“This will make the North East a place you want to base your business as its digital connectivity is so good, but we also need to look to the future, and in many ways treat the North Atlantic Loop as the first step. Current fibres top out at around 4 or 5TB per second, but the new loop starts at 30TB, so it’s a big step up and required for the next phase of digital transformation in all sectors.

“We now need to see rapid take-up of fibre to the home (FTTH) and fibre to the premises (FTTP) to allow those individuals and businesses based at home and in smaller premises to take advantage of this; to support economic growth across the board. But definitely the first steps are being taken, and this project is hugely significant for the region.”

The region is already home to a 40km super high-speed optical fibre loop – which runs from the west of Newcastle along the banks of the Tyne to the Stellium Data Centre, back round through North Tyneside to the north of Newcastle city centre – which provides a speed of connection beyond anything available to Media City in Manchester and London’s Olympic Park.

The North Atlantic Loop project takes that to a whole new level with a network which is set to give Newcastle the UK’s best connections to America and Europe – as Nigel Bayliff, CEO of Aqua Comms boldly stated, Newcastle will now be 1000km closer to New York than you think.

John says: “For the past 20 years we have seen the vast growth of digital, with the internet bubble from around 2000 and fibre connections being developed from there. Now, we are entering a new era entirely with the introduction of online health, autonomous vehicles, cloud computing, the Internet of Things, 5G capacity, the immersive technologies of AR and VR, so many things that we need the fibre networks to allow to grow.

“This new network will take away the obstacles the North East has previously had with connectivity and will enable more opportunities here. People will see they don’t need to go to London or Manchester or anywhere else, as the businesses and the jobs will be here in the region and can be established here.

“We will have it all – but the North East needs to get behind it and use those opportunities to close the gap that has developed with elsewhere in the country and the world. It’s about inclusion, not leaving anybody behind, which is why – while Stellium gets on with connecting the major global players – I really want to see FTTH and FTTP become the next step in these transformational times.”


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