Openreach invests £100m in NI

Openreach, Northern Ireland’s (NI) largest digital infrastructure provider, recently announced a commitment to invest over £100 million in capital expenditure over the next 12 months. This investment will support the maintenance of Openreach’s existing copper and fibre networks as well as its ultrafast Full Fibre broadband network build programme which forms part of its existing plan to build Full Fibre to 20 million premises across the UK by the mid to late 2020s.

Openreach, which currently employs more than 1,000 people in roles across NI, has been building its ultrafast Full Fibre broadband network at pace over the last 18 months. Now more than 65% of properties in the region, over 530,000 homes and businesses, can access ultra-reliable broadband at speeds of up to 1Gbps on Openreach’s network – making NI the most digitally connected region in the UK*.

With the dramatic escalation in both demand for and usage of online services over the last year, greater access to fast, reliable, and future-proofed connections will be central to economic recovery and long-term socioeconomic growth in NI. As part of Openreach’s £100 million investment, ultrafast Full Fibre broadband will be built to at least 100,000 additional premises in NI in the coming year, which will support even greater digital connectivity in the region. This will include premises in rural towns and villages spanning the length and breadth of NI – from Castledawson in Co. Londonderry to Aughnacloy in Co. Tyrone.

As part of the announcement, Openreach has also unveiled plans to recruit 100 new apprentices in 2021/22, who will all receive 18 months’ training and an NVQ before graduating as fully qualified engineers. The new recruits will play a role in the ultrafast Full Fibre broadband build as well as working to manage and maintain the Openreach network - keeping critical services, homes and businesses connected.

Commenting on the announcement, Arlene Foster, First Minister of Northern Ireland, said: “I welcome the commitment by Openreach to enhance and extend digital connectivity in Northern Ireland over the next 12 months. The £100m investment plan will mean that well over two-thirds of homes and businesses here will have access to its ultrafast full fibre broadband network.

“This pandemic has shown us how important online services are to how we live, work, and engage together. Greater access to fast, reliable connections will make a real difference to people’s lives and will also play a key part in the recovery and renewal of our economy.

Importantly, this investment will also focus on the skilled workforce of the future with the creation of 100 new apprenticeship roles who will be supported to achieve engineering qualifications.

Michelle O’Neill, deputy First Minister said: “This investment of £100 million by Openreach is hugely significant and very welcome as we work towards economic and societal recovery. I’m particularly encouraged by the much-needed job opportunities that will be provided through the creation of 100 new apprentice roles.

“Online connectivity is absolutely crucial to our economy and in our daily lives. The way people work, learn, do business and connect with one another means that access to quality broadband has never been more important.

“The availability of better broadband will be transformative for individuals, families and businesses. Openreach has already brought ultrafast Full Fire broadband to 65% of premises across the region and I’m delighted that this latest investment will help to bring the latest broadband technologies to even more people and communities.”

Mairead Meyer, Director of Openreach in Northern Ireland, commented:

“As a major employer and the largest infrastructure builder in NI, we believe Openreach can play an important role in helping the region to build back better and stronger. We know that full deployment of ultrafast Full Fibre broadband by 2025 could boost the NI economy by £1.3 billion and employment by 1.6%**. We also know that the network we’re building will deliver even greater benefits in terms of levelling up connectivity to provide economic and social rebalancing across the region as well as having green benefits by enabling more home working and fewer commuting trips.

“Our ultrafast Full Fibre broadband network build is rolling out at pace, with 65% of premises in NI, including 75% of those within the capital of Belfast, now able to access Full Fibre on our network. We’ve ambitious plans in place to continue to drive this forward over the coming months and this investment will support these efforts.

“We’re now looking for more people to join our multi-generational team and to build a career at Openreach and I’m delighted to announce a further 100 new apprentice roles in the coming year. We take great pride in being an inclusive and diverse place to work, creating a supportive working environment and providing opportunities for development and growth. We’re encouraging anyone, no matter their background or experience, to apply and join us on the journey to build a network that will support the people of Northern Ireland for decades to come.”

To find out how to apply for an apprentice role or to see if you can upgrade to Ultrafast Full Fibre broadband visit www.openreach.co.uk/ni