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Adastral Park, BT’s global research and development headquarters

BT opened this Suffolk site in 1975 on a 150 acre plot in Martlesham, north of Ipswich. Today, more than 40 years later, the site is BT’s global research and development headquarters, employing over 3,000 scientists and engineers, one of the biggest such sites in Europe and the place where so many inventions have been developed upon which telecommunications across the world depend. It’s also home to BT’s network control centres for half of the UK’s broadband network and the whole of its international network across 178 countries.

Adastral Park 

With technology companies like Apple and Google publicly battling to create the most futuristic campus, it could be easy to forget that they are in fact building on the work of Suffolk’s own world class tech campus – Adastral Park.

Since 2011 more than 90 other tech businesses have co-located with BT at Adastral Park, employing a further 1,000 local people under the umbrella of Innovation Martlesham, including many suppliers to the wider UK and global telecoms sector, such as Cisco, Nokia and Huawei.

Innovation Martlesham is home to a diverse range of large, medium and small companies, and provides physical and virtual office accommodation to support the demand from digital tech businesses. It also hosts networking opportunities and events, has a mentor group and an ICT Business Incubator. In 2016 Innovation Martlesham was also recognised in the Tech Nation report for helping to put the East Anglian region on the technology map.

A bust of Tommy Flowers at BT’s Adastral Park
A bust of Tommy Flowers at BT’s Adastral Park

The Tommy Flowers Institute

Alan Turing’s revolutionary work in breaking the Enigma code is well known. What is less well-known is that the Enigma code was followed by the Lorenz code, which was more complex and used to transmit strategic enemy communications. Creating a machine to break the Lorenz code was a major goal in the war effort.

A GPO (later BT) engineer Tommy Flowers’ pre-war work with valves had shown him they could be a reliable technology to replace electro-magnetic switches. Flowers exploited this insight when working on the code breaking machines at Bletchley Park.

Flowers proposed a huge electronic system, ‘Colossus’, using 10 times more valves than had previously been attempted. Colossus proved five times faster, and more flexible, than previous devices. In all, 10 Colossus systems were used in Britain’s wartime decoding efforts. They showed in June 1944 that Hitler remained convinced Allied preparations for the Normandy landings were just a diversion, and ultimately assisted the events that brought about the end of World War II.

BT is building on this legacy, as in autumn 2016, it helped to establish an institute named in honour of Tommy Flowers at Adastral Park. The Tommy Flowers Institute aims to help develop university and industry researchers from all over the country who are tackling the UK’s biggest business challenges such as cyber-security, Big Data, autonomics and converged networks.

The Tommy Flowers Institute spring conference, which took place at the beginning of March 2017, welcomed academic researchers from different fields including social science, maths, statistics, computer science and engineering.

Six inventions from Adastral Park

2015, Quantum Communications - BT working with Toshiba Research Labs and ADVA Optical Networking, demonstrated Quantum keys sent simultaneously with encrypted data over the same fibre. It demonstrated that in the future it should be possible to run a network that will be impervious to hacking.

2013, Fast data in the local loop - BT ran the first G.Fast trial in Rushmere St. Andrew near Martlesham using existing copper infrastructure. This high speed networking trial achieved speeds 20 times faster than the UK average.

2014: Queen’s Award for IPX - BT wins a Queen’s Award for Enterprise (Innovation), for the creation of IP Exchange (IPX), a service invented at Adastral Park. IPX allows seamless interoperability between fixed, mobile, legacy and next-generation networks, powering the growth of IP services around the globe.

1999, BT Cellnet (now O2) makes first live data call - Wireless network researchers at Adastral Park kick-start the mobile data revolution, making the first live data call over GPRS (General Packet Radio Service). This technology was the precursor to today’s high-speed mobile data services.

1982, Fibre Optics - Successful trial between Martlesham and Kesgrave, both in Suffolk, of a 140 Mb/s single mode optical fibre link was completed by BT. Lighter and thinner, optical fibre carries more information over longer distances.

1979, Prestel - This technology was a forerunner of today’s online services, which used a television set hooked to a dedicated terminal via a telephone line. Prestel was created based on the work of Samuel Fedida at Adastral Park which grew into a "Prestel Division" of BT. The service was launched in 1979 and grew to a peak of 90,000 subscribers in the UK.

Innovation Martlesham

Innovation Martlesham

Innovation Martlesham is an established cluster of ICT companies at Adastral Park.

Through events and networking opportunities, Innovation Martlesham provides a collaborative environment for nearly 100 ICT companies, from start-ups to some of the world’s largest ICT companies including BT, Nokia, Cisco and Huawei.

Earlier this year, Innovation Martlesham launched a new Business Accelerator facility. The IM Accelerator aims to support the growth of companies which are self-funded and able to demonstrate a six-month business plan with clear objectives for their product, service or proof-of-concept.

The accelerator offers a six-month structured programme of activities focused on growth and offers discounted Business Club rates, access to site facilities and networking opportunities.

Innovation Martlesham cluster has grown to support over 700 jobs and almost 100 ICT companies. BT would like to double the size of the cluster to around 200 companies in the next three to five years, boosting the number of people working for Innovation Martlesham companies to 1,500.

Other than the case studies below, some other examples are: BT’s optical research team working with ADVA to build the next generation of ultra-secure optical networks secured by quantum technology, together with brand new research into 5G wireless networks; Nokia and Huawei, both at the forefront of the UK’s tech infrastructure and Glaze Alarm and Oxems, both pioneering work in the Internet of Things.

If someone is thinking about moving their tech start-up to Innovation Martlesham, BT can assess the idea to see if it’s right for the Incubator. BT offers free accommodation, free broadband and business support and development function and a mentor group to l help structure the idea. It will also help make the connections that can provide access to BT’s customers, research labs and supply chain. When the time is right BT can also introduce start-ups to investors.

Some of the start-ups at Innovation Martlesham

Nevion

Strictly Come Dancing, filmed at Elstree Studios, is just one programme that uses virtual media production technology – developed by Innovation Martlesham Company, Nevion, to connect live events to homes. Its technology enables the transmission of high definition video content at the speed of light.

Nevion’s solutions are deployed in more than 50 countries and in hundreds of venues from Ipswich Town FC’s Portman Road to Old Trafford. For the 2016 Olympic Games, Nevion’s kit allowed the Canadian Broadcaster CBC, to commentate over a live video link of the action – without ever being in Rio. Nevion is also behind the BBC’s production of live and interactive programmes such as Children in Need and Red Nose Day.

Inn Style

Whether glamping at Glastonbury, self-catering in Scotland or a B&B in Bath – behind your online booking could be a company based at Innovation Martlesham.

Inn Style, is an online guest booking engine for accommodation owners, founded by Chris Waters and James Kindred which has increased its user base by 132% in the last 12 months. Since its launch in January 2014, it has processed confirmed bookings for a total of 739,000 room nights - the equivalent of over 2,000 years!

Inn Style’s users are largely in the UK, but also attracting customers worldwide including South Africa, America, Mozambique, France and Ecuador.

Viavi Solutions

Viavi Solutions is a global leader in test and diagnostic technologies for operators and telecoms equipment manufacturers. For example, if a fault is reported on a broadband connection, it is Viavi’s technology that companies like BT use to diagnose the issue. In fact the Viavi HST3000 hand held unit, engineered by Viavi and developed at Adastral Park, is an essential piece of kit in every BT Openreach engineer’s van.

Viavi works with more than 4,000 communications service providers, governments and network equipment manufacturers around the world. The company employs around 2,500 staff and is active in 80 countries with a vital presence at Adastral Park where it develops network test solutions before rolling them out across the UK. Viavi is also working with EE (acquired by BT in 2016) on the performance of mobile phones in the network and is also engaged in the next generation mobile technology, 5G.

Coderus

International software company Coderus specialises in embedded and mobile application solutions for brands including Bowers & Wilkins, Frontier Silicon, GlazeAlarm and Land Rover BAR. It hosts the East of England’s annual Microsoft, Google and Apple live-stream events.

Coderus is currently working alongside BT, using its expertise to support Land Rover BAR’s bid (led by Sir Ben Ainslie - the most successful sailor in Olympic history) to win the America’s Cup, taking place in Bermuda this summer. Coderus is working on a solution for the British Challenger yacht to provide fast and accurate tactical information to crews working at the very limits of their capacity, one of the biggest challenges in America’s Cup racing. 

Professor Tim Whitley, managing director, BT Adastral Park

Interview with Professor Tim Whitley, managing director, BT Adastral Park

What is your vision for the future of Adastral Park?

“My vision for Adastral Park is that it continues to innovate and be renowned as the place where the world’s best technologists want to work. Over 4,000 people work on the Park, continually shaping the telecommunications industry and driving the UK’s digital economy.”

What technologies that BT is working with are key to the company’s future development?

“BT invests around £500 million every year in R&D and files roughly 100 new inventions from here at Adastral Park.”

“One of the key research areas for the future, is the Internet of Things, or IoT, which is best understood as a network of devices (including sensors and smart phones) that talk to each other. The potential for IoT applications is vast, including healthcare, transportation and energy. We are currently developing instrumentation, analytics and standards to support the growing demand for IoT technologies.”

What trends in technology do you see as being important – and what are their implications for BT?  

“We are addressing a whole range of important new and emerging technologies from 5G mobile to connected robotics, virtual reality broadcasting to machine learning, and ultrafast broadband to cyber security, all of these will be vital not just to BT but the millions of customers who rely on our digital infrastructure here in the UK and across the Globe.”

Where would you like to see Innovation Martlesham in ten years’ time?

“By 2027 I would like to double or triple the number of companies currently based at Adastral Park, creating more than 2,000 additional, exciting and important jobs for the UK.”

What kind of companies do you want to attract to IM to help it develop? Would you consider the likes of Facebook and Amazon, or do you want to keep it for start-up tech companies which BT can develop and work with?

“Many major multinational companies already call Adastral Park their home including Cisco, Nokia, Intel and Huawei – several of which have their own development labs on the site. One of the strengths of Adastral Park is the collaboration between not only BT and other global brands, but also with the start-ups, many of which will be taking part in Innovation Week 2017.”  

Broadband services is an emotive subject – what does the separation of BT and Openreach mean for BT and its customers?

“The recent announcements give clarity and allow Openreach to continue to focus on the hugely important job of extending superfast broadband coverage across the country. The UK has made good progress in providing greater coverage but there is more to do and one of the roles of Adastral Park is to leave no stone unturned in seeking new ways to rapidly deliver the connectivity that customers and communities so desperately want.”  

What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in technology?

“Studying science, technology, engineering, maths and computing is a good route. However, great teams need diverse thought so we also love the traditional humanities subjects too. For research, being inquisitive, finding out how things work and thinking about how things could work better is key.

“University is a fantastic way of starting a career in ICT however it is not the only route. Apprenticeships are an equally valid way to get into the field at an earlier stage including obtaining a degree. This year BT took on around 700 apprentices as well as 350 graduates and management trainees. Many of the senior managers working at Adastral Park today, including myself, in fact began their career as BT apprentices.”

“Our purpose at BT is to use the power of communications to make a better world, that involves harnessing science and real-world engineering to solve problems, create commercial opportunities and to transform society for the better. If that is exciting then I would encourage those young people to take a look at BT.”