Torbay’s Hi-tech companies design and develop new technology to support global internet demand
The last four months have seen significant changes in all our lives, and those working in hi-tech have also had to adapt our ways of working to the new norm. Torbay, like our neighbouring cities of Plymouth and Exeter, has a well-established and diverse hi-tech cluster. There are many international companies with a presence here in Torbay, utilising ingenuity, advanced technologies and processes to develop world-leading, state of the art products. The companies use a multitude of technologies and expertise including; micro-electronics, opto-electronics (photonics), micro-positioning, radio, satellite, medical & life sciences, computer software, and internet security consultants. There are many other companies involved in specialist areas of complementary skills such as professional talent acquisition and finance, which tie all these diverse yet amazing specialist areas of technology harmoniously together. These companies are also supported by academic partners including South Devon College and regional universities. We have support from local government too, TDA, and the Electronics & Photonics Innovation Centre (EPIC) in Paignton, so altogether we make the Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster.
The Photonics Leadership Group recently reported that the UK hi-tech community, specifically the photonics sector, contributes £5.3 billion of gross added value to the UK economy, and employs 69,000 people at an above average productivity level of £76,400 per employee. It’s equivalent to the mighty UK pharmaceuticals, and projected to grow for years to come. Torbay has been identified as a Westminster parliamentary constituency containing photonics and hi-tech industries. However, in spite of this, UK photonics remains a largely hidden economy with little government acknowledgement or media interest.
During the past four months, many companies have implemented tele-working from home, and safe distance practices when in the office. It’s not been easy trying to safe guard an office with many 10s or even 100 employees. Many companies have now distributed face masks to all employees, a new ritual of body temperature measurement and alcoholic hand washing on arrival is mandatory, communal eating areas are out, and a one-way system around the office setup. Hand shaking is certainly is a no-no even with the most admired colleague or visitor.
The crisis along with the global advancement in internet and communications technology (much of it designed in Torbay), has enabled a new way of engaging with the world. Tele-working, webinars and tele-conferences are now considered normal practice, which will continue even when the pandemic is finally over, so maybe the need to commute each day or move to another city will come to an end, or at least less often. Certainly good for the environment, quality of life and more career opportunities for those who live in Torbay.
For the Torbay area there are some positive messages. Since the beginning of the COVID crisis, those involved in the design and development of communications systems have seen demand for products ramping, the need to ship products to global and domestic internet service providers (inc. BT, Vodafone, Virgin Media, etc.) has increased, fuelled by the need for more bandwidth. Whether to support home-working or download your favourite movie in an instant, tele-shopping or surfing the web, or live gaming with a challenger anywhere in the world, or maybe just a daily video call to a loved one far away, the demand is there. Since the crisis started, Vodafone UK internet traffic has increased by 50%. In addition, the accelerated roll-out of next generation 5G communications networks to enable all those extra applications and functionality implemented into smartphones, which are becoming essential for everyday life, whether at home or on the move. All unbelievable some years ago. These services and applications use advanced leading-edge technology and telecom products designed in Torbay by established international organisations like Lumentum, II-VI, Gooch & Housego and Spirent, and new innovative organisations built on local talent like Bay Photonics, Davies & Bell and Effect Photonics to mention just a few. Torbay has a heritage of innovation including Oliver Heaviside, the famous mathematician (1850–1925), the Singer family with their sewing machines in the 1800s, STC in the 50s and Nortel in the 90s.
The Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster provides products and services to a global multi-national community, and even now continues to use its combined powers to evolve and remain a renowned entity for leading-edge innovation and world class products.
If you would like to know more about the Torbay Hi-Tech Cluster, its members and the opportunities that it offers please visit: https://epic-centre.co.uk/torbay-hi-tech-cluster/
Dr Philip Mitchell, Vice Chair of the Torbay Hi-tech Cluster