Learn more about Zycomm in this great article by the Derby Telegraph
When companies relocate, their biggest gripe is often with broadband providers who struggle to manage requests for the installation of their phone lines. Paul Whyatt speaks to the chairman of Ripley firm Zycomm, which uses a number of Derbyshire landmarks to provide wireless broadband through its W3Z subsidiary company.
Being without broadband for any length of time has the potential to cost thousands of pounds in lost revenue and lost time. So when complaints from Pride Park businesses about the patchy quality of internet connectivity surfaced some years back, internet service provider W3Z pounced.
The Ripley firm, a subsidiary of radio communications company Zycomm, struck an agreement with Derby County Football Club in 2013 and installed a number of “access points” on top of the club’s iPro Stadium, thus delivering superfast wireless broadband to surrounding businesses.
Since then, the company has struck similar deals with land and site owners across Derbyshire, resulting in its turnover soaring by 55% over the past year to almost £1 million. They include landmarks such as Derby Cathedral, the Heights of Abraham and Carsington Water. Even boats at Mercia Marina have superfast internet thanks to access points installed at the site.
“We’ve got a very good relationship with the diocese of Derby,” says Ian Sneap, chairman of W3Z. “It’s allowing us to go on churches. The biggest one is Derby Cathedral. That, plus Pride Park means we have a great deal to offer in Derby.
“With the cathedral, the architect said he couldn’t see the aerial – that’s exactly the idea – and the council planning officer said ‘that’s de minimis, go right ahead’,
so we’ve got four around the top of the cathedral and noone can see them. If you keep it looking right, you don’t upset anyone. Businesses like concrete firm FP McCann have helped us, as have farms. With the co-operation of a farmer, we’re away.”
Ian set up W3Z in 2003 to initially deliver wireless broadband to Wirksworth. He recalls: “It was a basic 1Mb/s service back then, which everyone was happy with because there was no TV streaming in those days.
“They just wanted good email and browsing. We offered them the solution. We upgraded that to a 10Mb/s service about four years ago and then, two years ago, we upgraded again to 20Mb/ s. And when we say 20Mb/s we mean it. We don’t use words that BT use, such as ‘up to’, which is meaningless. Also, people are allowed to vary their contract on a month-to-month basis, so they could have more or less. If they’re going on holiday, they can turn it right down and keep me a poor man. Nobody else offers that flexibility.
“Now, as well as the 20Mb/s service, we offer businesses 1Gb/s. I never thought years ago we’d being doing 1Gb/s wireless links. Turnover over the past year is up 55% to nearly £1 million and I’d say there’s potential to grow that to £3 million over the next five years. We’re able to install access points at two or three sites a month.”
As an internet service provider, W3Z already has about 3,000 residential and business customers in rural Derbyshire. These include schools, bluechip firms and housing estates.
“It’s quite interesting,” Ian responds when asked how many of the customers were busi- nesses. “If you went back five years it was 70% business and 30% domestic, but that was because we had business people working from home. It’s changed recently.
How MD Ruth is continuing to get the message out
Ian Sneap founded two-way radio communications firm Zycomm – the parent company of W3Z – in 1979, with the aim of filling a gap in the mobile radio market.
The entrepreneur felt small- to medium-sized organisations were being inadequately served by the communications industry of the day and so set out to do something about it. Thirty-seven years on, it is now a multi-million-pound business in its mobile radio activities alone.
Today, the company boasts an extensive range of equipment from hand-portable radios to mobile and base station units. It supplies an ever-widening spectrum of customers, including farmers, construction firms, doctors’ deputising services, security companies, universities, airports, police, the armed forces, the utilities and local authorities.
A successful performance in terms of turnover and profits has been matched by the company’s reputation within its sector. Zycomm now holds BS ISO9002 and RQAS accreditation following first being awarded BS5750 quality assurance accreditation as long ago as 1989.
In 2010, Ian announced he was standing down as managing director of Zycomm, with Ruth Nixon appointed as his replacement. Under Ruth’s leadership, Zycomm has continued to grow having moved into new territory – providing a
comprehensive range of communication products including mobiles, landlines, CCTV, headsets, trackers and forward and rear facing cameras.
Since Ruth’s arrival, turnover of the whole business has doubled. “It’s at £4.4 million now – that includes the growth with W3Z,” Ruth told Agenda. “If you look at the radio side of the business, we’ve added a couple of million since 2010 and that’s been through one main manufacturer, which is Hytera [based in China]. Their product range and product lines fitted with our skills and capability.
Kenwood [based in Japan] was always historically our main manufacturer.”
Ruth was just 29 when she was promoted to managing director – a job she admitted she initially felt daunted by. But with a good, loyal customer base and great bunch of employees, she is thriving in the role.
Indeed, it is Zycomm’s customers and staff that are helping the company see off what Ruth described as “horrendous” competition.
She said: “The industry as a whole has about 600 radio dealers in the UK ... but we’re fortunate to have a wealth of loyal customers. It’s a case of keeping our heads, staying focused on what our goal is and not losing sight of our core values – good service and providing solutions.” Of course, winning new customers is always a goal of any business and Ruth would love to secure more local clients.
“It would be nice if we got Derbyshire business to a Derbyshire company. Unfortunately, it seems at the moment we have to go out of Derbyshire to get business.”
“We’ve not lost the people but demographics have changed. We never accounted for the younger generation who only have mobile and no BT landlines. They don’t have to have a BT landline to have our internet. So, there’s a bigger influx of young people who have come in. Although we’ve not lost the businesspeople, the percentages have swung around.”
W3Z gets its broadband from two providers in London. It then beams the signal from its own masts, including at Alport Heights, near Wirksworth. A microwave link connects the masts to its Ripley headquarters. Ian says: “We’ve got two 1Gb/s lines. One comes directly into here, our Ripley headquarters, underground and the other one we have delivered into Nottingham, because we have a mast at the top of Mapperley Plains. With that one, what we do is link that across on microwave link to the tower here. It means that, if they dig up the road in Ripley, we’ve still got service via Nottingham. And if someone digs up the road in Nottingham, we’ve got service from here.”
At the age of 70, is Ian contemplating retirement? He replies: “Not a chance. You die in bed. I don’t want to do that. I’m happy doing what I’m doing. I’m not going to retire. I never will. There’s no future in that!”