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Seismic Innovations in Cornwall’s Digital Revolution

Cornwall has a long history of producing innovative pioneers; individuals who have thought differently to those who have gone before them and reaped the benefits for being bold in their approach.  Household names such as Trevithick and Davy are well known for their achievements in Science and Engineering but today, in a modern Cornwall, digital technology is where you’ll find the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.   Between 2007 and 2013, the Convergence Programme saw European Regional Investment Funds used to support business use of ICT that would spark opportunities for the people and prosperity of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and that investment has left a legacy of business growth.  

Key amongst the investments was the pioneering Superfast Cornwall programme, a partnership between the EU, Cornwall Council and BT.  A total of £132m was invested in upgrading our broadband infrastructure, with £53.5m of ERDF investment matched by a further £78.5m private sector investment from BT.  The project has now allowed over 80,000 fibre connections were made to the high speed world, of which 12,000 are from businesses, enabling entrepreneurs to compete locally and internationally in sectors that previously would not have been possible with slower speeds.  Superfast Cornwall continues its role out in Cornwall to December 2017, with another 8000 premises benefiting from ability to connect to fibre services  

The installation of the Superfast infrastructure was like being given a place on a race track and suddenly you have the fastest car, and the independent evaluation of the programme  showed that 2,000 jobs were created, a further 2,500 safeguarded, resulting in a £200m annual economic impact to our region.

Alongside the Superfast Broadband investment was a programme of business support called Superfast Business Cornwall.  This offered a wide range of support that would help make the most of the new resources, it’s one thing to be given a fast car, but to get the most out of it, it’s important to get a few lessons.  Amongst these were some incredible innovations that are continuing to grow and develop and have very exciting futures ahead of them. 

John Cowles, Director at Altcom said, “Altcom isn’t a high street name but the people that use their kit certainly are.  In the tradition of scientist and inventor Sir Humphry Davy the software and techniques developed by Penzance based Altcom are having an impact around the world. Director John Cowles and his team have developed software for micro-seismic monitoring, which in basic terms is the ability to detect and analyse tiny movements in the earth.  The ability to detect these tiny movements is crucial to the geothermal and oil and gas sectors and their exploration and research activity. They include international oil and gas giants amongst their clients, and their software is being applied to assets as wide-spread as South-East Asia, Eurasia and North America. With the ever present desire to find more energy reserves, but an increasing desire from a wider audience to know what the environmental impact of the research activity is having, the list of big name clients is likely to grow.” 

Superfast Business Cornwall helped Altcom and other businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly realise their vision.  Advisers worked with businesses to map out a digital project. Businesses then presented to an Expert Panel from finance, technology, higher education and business who challenged and made recommendations of alternative technologies, potential markets and collaboration partners to maximise the impact of the project. Successful applications were supported with impartial advice, project management support and funding. 

In the geothermal and oil and gas sectors, being able to have remote multiple team members monitor, process and analyse micro-seismic data as it is acquired in the field is a significant step forward. The Superfast project has enabled real-time acquisition and processing supported by a remote database to facilitate multi-user operation in the field. 

Pointing their technology in completely the opposite direction is Goonhilly Earth Station Ltd (GES).  This iconic site in Cornwall, includes the famous satellite dish “Arthur” which received the first live transatlantic television pictures via the Telstar satellite in 1962.  Fast forward over 50 years and innovation is once again coming from the site.  GES was one of 9,647 businesses in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly assisted to improve their performance during the Convergence Programme, 177% of the original target.  

Support helped GES to provide high bandwidth, resilient connectivity between five key, remote antenna sites and the Central Building on the site.  This has provided new operational flexibility, in parallel with significantly increasing the antenna’s capacity to provide satellite services using modern, high speed, internet technologies.

GES now boasts one of Cornwall’s Enterprise Zones where it is expected more pioneering digital innovations will take place thanks in part to the support offered by the Convergence Programme.  The site is one of the best connected in the world offering incredible internet speeds of more the 10 gigabits per second.  This is likely to attract world class academic researchers as well as businesses that rely on huge amounts of data delivered in an instant.  

Programme Manager Sebeail Fowell from Serco who led on the development and delivery of this support programme said, “From increasing productivity through flexible working, to reaching new markets through developing new products and services; exploiting digital technology enabled by Superfast Broadband is helping boost business competitiveness in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. We are delighted that the “Superfast Champions” we worked with continue to innovate and expand.”

Julian German, Cornwall Council’s Portfolio Holder for Economy, said “These two significant investments delivered through the Convergence Programme have delivered excellent results. Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly's Superfast broadband network is helping and attracting innovative businesses to thrive. The Superfast Business programme has been instrumental in assisting businesses to unlock the full potential that it offers. We now have a very good platform to build upon which as we're seeing through the current Growth Programme investments, is cultivating and growing ambitious creative and digital industries”.

This fundamental investment has created the foundation for a number of other projects under the current round of funding, the Growth Programme.  A further £2.9m of ERDF and £746k private sector funding has been invested in Superfast Business to deliver a tailored programme of specialist ICT support and digital skills development to drive competitiveness through enhanced understanding and exploitation of digital technologies.  In addition, new workspaces to support the digital and creative industries that are being built with funding from the Growth Programme that will create new news and contribute to the growth of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s economy.  These include “QuayWorks” in Truro’s Hall for Cornwall, and Launchpad which will focus on support for graduates developing the gaming and interactive technology markets.  

Page last updated: 15:20, 12th January 2017
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