UK government unveils overdue plan to bring fibre to every home and raise broadband speeds
The UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced a new long-term strategy for UK telecommunications. As Jeremy Cowan writes, at last it includes mandatory full fibre broadband for all new-build homes.
The government has announced it will be mandatory for all new build homes in the UK to feature “full fibre broadband”. It will also be a “new priority” to connect hard-to-reach rural areas. These are among the measures proposed in the new national, long-term strategy for UK telecommunications.
This approach aims to drive large-scale commercial investment in fixed and wireless networks that are described as, “vital for the country to remain globally competitive in a digital world”. A recent report ranked the UK 15th in the world for broadband speeds.
The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), announced as part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, proposes changes that are needed to give the majority of the population access to 5G, to connect 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025, and to provide full fibre broadband coverage across the UK by 2033.
Full fibre infrastructure is vital to underpin 5G coverage, say goverment ministers.
They emphasise the need for greater consumer choice and initiatives to promote quicker rollout and an eventual full switch over from copper to fibre.
DCMS Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright says: “We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel. This radical new blueprint for the future of telecommunications in this country will increase competition and investment in full fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure for 5G.”
The FTIR’s analysis indicates that, without change, full fibre broadband networks will at best only ever reach three quarters of the country, and it would take more than 20 years to do so. It also indicates that 5G offers the potential for an expansion of the telecoms market, with opportunities for existing players and new entrants.
The UK government concedes that nationwide availability of full fibre is likely to require additional funding of around £3 billion to £5 billion (€3.36 billion to €5.6 billion) to support commercial investment in approximtely the final 10% of areas. These, often rural areas, must not be forced to wait until the rest of the country has connectivity before they can access gigabit-capable networks.
The government will, therefore, pursue an “outside-in” strategy, meaning that while network competition serves the commercially viable areas, the Government will support investment in the most difficult-to-reach areas at the same time.
Sharon White, chief executive of UK communications regulator, Ofcom, comments: “We welcome the Government’s review, and share its ambition for full fibre and 5G networks to be rolled out right across the UK. The government and Ofcom are working together, and with industry, to help ensure people and businesses get the broadband and mobile they need for the 21st century.”
Adrian Baschnonga, global lead telecommunications analyst, EY comments: “The future telecoms infrastructure review is ambitious, with recommendations designed to aid the nuts and bolts of full fibre rollout combined with a long-term view of supporting regulatory reforms and infrastructure investment.”
He adds, “This holistic approach – which also makes clear the convergence between full fibre and 5G – is critical if the UK is to boost its competitiveness in a new era of digital infrastructure.”
A ‘long way’ from full fibre broadband
“The UK is a long way from achieving a full fibre network that is capable of handling our future demands for high speed internet access,” says Alex Tofts, spokesperson at Broadband Genie. “The market really needs this investment to avoid falling further behind other countries. According to the Akamai State of the Internet report the UK is ranked 15th in the world for broadband speeds, and 9th in Europe.
“This pledge should encourage competition, and a number of providers have announced plans to further invest in and develop full fibre networks. It’s now something providers should be starting to plan products for,” according to Tofts.
“However, it’s reported that approximately 925,000 (UK) premises still cannot get a basic fixed line connection of above 10Mpbs. We hope this update will ensure that every home and business has a minimum level of fast broadband internet, especially in rural communities where lack of access can be a serious problem,” Tofts concludes.
Mark Collins, director of Strategy at CityFibre, says: “Today marks the day the government decided once and for all to leave copper behind and commit the UK to a full fibre future, making clear that a new generation of infrastructure builders is the vehicle for delivering its bold ambition for all homes and businesses to be connected to full fibre by 2033, not just Openreach. CityFibre is already building the networks that the UK’s economy needs to prosper and is ready to work with industry and government to make this a reality quickly.
“The government’s plans to deliver nationwide full fibre include a welcome commitment to creating a level-playing field, ensuring greater transparency from the incumbent and delivering a stable regulatory environment for investment. However, it is critical that the consumer is at the heart of this fantastic opportunity from the start, as this is the key to unlocking demand. That means avoiding price rises, ensuring switching between networks is simple and ending the years of misleading ‘fake fibre’ advertising. Getting both sides of the equation right is key to ensuring millions of homes and businesses will benefit – we now need to see the government and Ofcom push these plans through.”
CityFibre says its wholesale full fibre networks will reach 20% of UK homes and businesses by 2025, and it will continue to connect even more people to gigabit speed broadband as it progresses to 2033.
Recommendations from the FTIR also include:
- New legislation that will guarantee full fibre connections to new build developments;
- Providing operators with a ‘right to entry’ to flats, business parks, office blocks and other tenanted properties to allow those who rent to receive fast, reliable connectivity, from the right supplier at the best price;
- Reforms to the regulatory environment for full fibre broadband that will drive investment and competition and is tailored to different local market conditions;
- Public investment in full fibre for rural areas to begin simultaneously with commercial investment in urban locations;
- An industry-led switchover (from copper to full fibre) coordinated with Ofcom (the UK’s communications regulator);
- A new nationwide framework which will reduce the costs, time and disruption caused by street-works by standardising the approach across the country;
- Increased access to spectrum for innovative 5G services;
- Infrastructure (including pipes and sewers) owned by other utilities such as power, gas and water, should be easy to access, and available for both fixed and mobile use;
- Ofcom to reform regulation, allowing unrestricted access to network infrastructure provider Openreach’s ducts and poles for both residential and business use, including essential mobile infrastructure. Finally,
- Alongside the FTIR, Government has also published a Digital Infrastructure Toolkit which it says will allow mobile network operators s to make far greater use of Government buildings to boost coverage across the UK.
The author of this article is
Jeremy Cowan (pictured left),
editorial director of
VanillaPlus and IoT Now.