Superfast broadband provider, Voneus, sponsored two categories at the recent County Durham Together Awards – Unsung Hero and Health and Wellbeing. PETER BARRON looks at what the company can offer North-East communities, and why those awards were ‘the perfect fit’

VONEUS is a company on a mission – to be the champion of internet connectivity in areas where too many people are slipping through the net.

And, having quickly established an impressive track record of delivering bespoke solutions for broadband issues in rural areas in other parts of the country, Voneus is now poised to help North-East communities get better connected.

Covid-19 has added to the urgency of the challenge, underlining the importance of fast and strong connectivity, with too many people in hard to reach areas.

And with 20 years of experience in the telecoms industry behind him, Voneus chief executive, Steve Leighton, who serves on the board of the Internet Service Providers Association, is determined to fill the gaps.

“The pandemic has shone a harsh light on the internet connectivity issues shared by thousands in the North-East – while cities enjoy ultrafast broadband speeds, rural residents remain left behind with broadband too poor to support even a video chat with a loved one. This needs to change urgently,” says Steve.

“We strongly believe that rural living should not be synonymous with digital isolation. Our dedicated and friendly teams will work tirelessly to listen to the residents and businesses of the region and give them equal footing in life through the power of superfast broadband – regardless of how or where they choose to live.”

Voneus is a relatively young company – founded in 2011 – and its success is built around a unique business model that uses technology that is unobtrusive, flexible, and entirely wireless, so the impact on the environment is minimal.

Since starting the rollout of its competitively priced, rural broadband services five years ago, the company has experienced rapid growth to now serve thousands of homes and businesses in villages in other parts of the country.

And 2021 will see Voneus continue that momentum in the North-East, where the digital divide between urban and rural areas is particularly evident, adding to problems caused by social isolation, and thwarting economic growth.

In County Durham alone, there are still more than 30,000 premises where there are no providers or future plans to provide speeds of 30 megabits per second – the vast majority of them in rural areas.

Therefore, Voneus experts, including Steve himself, have spent time in North-East communities to get a greater understanding of the region’s broadband challenges.

As a result, Voneus will predominantly focus on areas around Barnard Castle; Bishop Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Darlington, and Teesside.

The County Durham villages of Ouston and Perkinsville led the way by going live in December, and Toft Hill and Coundon Gate will follow soon.

Plans are also in place for bundles that include the Freesat television service, internet phones, and the latest mesh Wi-fi solutions.

The company is also ready to provide the same level of service to rural businesses, as well as offering 24-hour CCTV monitoring to protect farms and companies located in the countryside.

“We are new to the North-East, so we want people to know we are here, and how we can make a difference,” says Zoe Day, head of marketing and communications for Voneus.

The company is hoping to hear from individuals, local councilors, and community leaders who feel their towns and villages are poorly served by broadband. The company is also part of the Church of England Parish Buying scheme, so feedback often comes through local churches.

When Voneus goes into a local area, it provides free broadband for buildings used as community hubs, such as a village hall, and the company has quickly begun to embed itself into the North East communities it will be serving.

For example, Voneus has become the major commercial partner of Bishop Auckland Football Club, with its logo on the shirts worn by the men’s and ladies’ teams.

“Bishop Auckland will be an important area for us, and we are aware of the legendary status of the town’s football club, going back generations,” explains Zoe. “The club also has a lot of youngsters involved, and we wanted to be part of that great connection to the community.”

The company was impressed by the supportive community role the Northern League club has played during the pandemic, and its sponsorship will go towards training, improving facilities, developing resources and attracting new talent.

Voneus has also made a donation to the Mayor of Bishop Auckland, Councillor Joy Allen, who is supporting the armed forces charity SSAFA.

The company was also recently announced as headline sponsor for The Cricketer’s National Village Cup for the next two years. The competition is one of the largest knockout cricket competitions in the UK, with a showcase final played at Lord’s, and it always attracts strong entries from the North-East.

And, of course, Voneus has been quick to demonstrate its support for this region by sponsoring two categories in the inaugural County Durham Together Awards, organised by The Northern Echo – The Great Daily of the North – in partnership with Durham County Council.

The Unsung Hero and Health and Wellbeing categories were described as the “perfect fit” for the company in the light of such a challenging year.

“A lot of people in rural areas don’t have broadband and, therefore, don’t have the same opportunities to speak online through the likes of Skype, Zoom, or Teams. That can have a real impact on mental health and wellbeing, especially in the midst of a pandemic that has kept so many families apart.

“At the same time, we have seen so many unsung heroes coming to the fore, helping to keep communities connected in countless ways.

“Therefore, those two categories were no-brainers for us because they go to the heart of what we are about, and we were proud to support such important awards.”

Voneus may be new to the North-East – the new kid on the block – but it is already busy making important connections.

WHAT MAKES VONEUS DIFFERENT?

VONEUS comes at the problem of internet connectivity from a different angle that is perfect for rural communities that have become frustrated at being left behind by the bigger names among broadband providers.

Unlike competitors, such as BT and Sky, that use infrastructure based on old copper wires, Voneus uses technology powered by fibre and delivered using innovative technology, with its equipment connected to the nearest fibre point – often a commercial or agricultural building.

It then transmits its superfast broadband wirelessly via a series of discreet transmitters – called hop points – direct to the rural community. The hop points are commonly on farm buildings, telegraph poles, church spires, or on the roofs of other commercial or residential buildings.

Voneus then installs a small receiver on homes to pick up the service. This can be coloured to aesthetically blend in with your house.

Conscious of working in some of the most picturesque spots in the UK, Voneus has even consulted the National Trust and Church of England to ensure its infrastructure is sympathetic to its surroundings.

To find out more go to www.voneus.com