A government minister has called for the UK to have a fully fibre network and 5G connectivity, and for the market to consider Internet connectivity in a far more holistic way.
But Matt Hancock, Minister of State for Digital and Culture, speaking at the Broadband World Forum in London said the market would have to provide it, with no government financial input other than practical help such as reforming planning laws to allow for easier building of more mobile masts.
Hancock began by pointing out that the UK had (alongside with the US), led the world when it came to the installation of a telephone and mobile network. But Hancock admitted the UK had slipped behind others with the rollout of 3G and 4G, and that it “should have happened sooner”.
And he pointed out that the UK needs to ensure its connectivity capabilities are up to scratch going forward.
He admitted that the Government had been tardy in only requiring 28Kbps Universal Service Obligation for many years, and warned that while 10Mbps may be enough for today’s needs, it won’t be enough for tomorrow’s, and the current situation of having a mix of a fibre and copper network will not be suitable in the years ahead.
“Around five years ago we took a strategic decision, as a nation, to drive the roll out of high-speed broadband – based largely on what we should call part-fibre, part-copper solutions,” he said. “That was the right decision then, because many countries that pursued early full-fibre strategies have left large swathes of their citizens on super-low-speeds.”
“But the price we’ve paid for 95 percent superfast part-fibre broadband is that only 2 percent of premises have full fibre,” he said, pointing out the need for a full fibre network.
“But around the world the evidence increasingly points to fibre roll out as the underpinning of a digital nation,” he said. “To those who say it’s been tried and failed, I say go to Hull.”
“It’s the one part of the country not covered by BT, and full fibre is now available to over half its businesses and homes,” Hancock said. “I’d like to give praise to Hull’s KCOM, who just last week announced that 25,000 more homes and businesses are to be connected to their full fibre service within the next six months. All this without Government subsidy.”
Hancock then issued a number of challenges for the market.
“First, we must complete the rollout of universal 4G and superfast broadband between now and 2020,” he said. “Second, we must deliver deeper connectivity now in areas of deep need, and support the competitive market for delivery. Third, we must start work now on ubiquitous 5G and fibre over the decade ahead.”
He said the government is also trying to drive improvements in digital connectivity on rail routes, through the provision of free Wi-Fi on trains.
“Through a mix of government funding and franchise obligations we are on track to deliver free Wi-Fi for 90 percent of passenger journeys by the end of 2018, and almost 100 percent by 2020,” he said.
He then moved onto the subject of the UK’s mobile networks, and he warned mobile operators to ensure they have “strengthened” their 4G networks before going onto 5G.
And he furthermore indicated that the government expects the market to fund all of these infrastructure deployments, without the need for any taxpayers money.
“The market will have to lead,” he said. “But government can support that by ensuring the right incentives are in place and any barriers are removed. I want to know from you what we can do to reduce the cost of full fibre roll out, so that in reality as well as rhetoric, fibre is the future.”
Earlier this week BT completed a ‘European first’ trial of advanced fibre to the premise (FTTP) technology that it claimed can deliver 40Gbps and 10Gbps connections on the same fibre cable.
The former incumbent also dismissed Ofcom’s call for a third ultrafast broadband network in the UK as being “highly unlikely” in a report.
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