Implications for Wales - The north-south divide

There is plenty going on in Wales to justify investment in IT infrastructure, but as things stand it is just so easy for a business in Wales to use Google, AWS or any number of DCs in England so a lot of opportunities are lost.

From many aspects, Wales is a country split into two, and it is often a source of consternation that the infrastructure linking North and South Wales is much poorer than infrastructure linking them to cities in England.  As it is with roads, rail, electricity, so it is with IT and communications.

South Wales

South Wales for the IT sector could be a tale of two cities.  The British “Silicon Valley” is the M4 corridor, following the route from London to Cardiff, and then onwards to West Wales.  Along this route the M4 motorway and parallel rail link passes Heathrow Airport, and cities including Slough, Reading, Swindon and Bristol.

Along this route, most of the worlds leading IT companies have offices.  The most popular locations are closer to London, so there is a gradient of IT investment tapering off to the West.  Cardiff and South Wales do not have the same draw for investment, but do attract some, so the gradient expands a little moving towards Wales.

Building data services and IT infrastructure in South Wales will have clear benefits for the Welsh economy. The Vantage data centre in Newport provides a good example.  It attracts international businesses looking for hosting and this in turn makes Cardiff more attractive for businesses that will need those services.  The opportunity is there to increase the attractiveness of Cardiff and other cities in South Wales.

North Wales

North Wales has a fibre network build by the company Fibrespeed, a joint venture between global carrier Zayo and the Welsh Government

There is limited International connectivity in North Wales, and many international submarine cables terminate in Southport north of Liverpool.  There is potential to bring international connections directly into North Wales.  

GTT Atlantic has connections from Southport (North of Liverpool) to Dublin, Canada and the US (Lynn, Massachusetts); Holyhead, Anglesey has connections to Dublin and Clonshaugh (just north of Dublin) owned by ESB Telecomms and Zayo Group; Deeside Clwyd has connection to Lusk (again just north of Dublin) also owned by Zayo group

Connectivity along North Wales for businesses should therefore be good.  Bangor university has a research centre working on 5G mobile technology, working with industry leaders.  

North Wales, like South Wales suffers from proximity to cities like Manchester and Liverpool which will always draw in investment.  The Fibrespeed infrastructure is a good platform however, on which data services in North Wales could be built and which would allow very high performance shrive to be provided to North Wales, and extending into rural areas.  

Breaking the North-South Divide

While there is a strong case for upgrading road and rail links between North and South Wales, the cost of such upgrades would be very high. However this is not true of communications and IT infrastructure.

IT companies could easily have a presence in North and South Wales, virtualisation means there is very little in the way of a divide.   There is room to upgrade fibre infrastructure between North and South Wales, but the cost of doing this is a fraction of the cost of building roads.  With planning, it should be incorporated into programs like improving rural broadband access.  

Couple this with improved international connections, and Wales starts to have a very interesting topology with a lot of potential.

Further good planning could ensure that any major North-South road improvement should include space for high quality fibre trunking to be incorporated without the need to dig up new roads in the future, a practice commonly adopted in mainland Northern Europe