UK Unlikely To Hit 5G And Broadband Target

The government’s targets for the deployment of next generation communications technologies are unlikely to be achieved.

This is the stark warning from the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee (DCMS), which announced on Tuesday that the five year deadline may not be achieved.

Last week the communications regulator Ofcom had revealed that 8 million homes can access gigabyte broadband connections.

Gigabyte broadband

That Ofcom finding meant that one in four UK homes can currently access broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps, as the need for robust and speedy broadband connections remains vital in the face of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.

But achieving this for the rest of the UK may not be possible in the stated timeframes, the DCMS has this week warned.

The DCMS said that the government “risks failing to meet its revised-down target for gigabit-capable broadband in the face of considerable challenges to infrastructure roll-out.”

“Evidence to the Broadband and the road to 5G inquiry found little confidence that nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025 could be delivered and ‘no genuine belief’ within the sector that it was achievable,” said the committee.

“Challenged on the target throughout the inquiry, Ministers reassured the Committee of the Government’s commitment to it, however, within weeks of these appearances before MPs, the Government abandoned its commitment to nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025, aiming instead for 85 percent coverage by that date,” it stated.

The DCMS said it would not be acceptable having abandoned one unrealistic target, for the Government to fail to meet a second less ambitious target through lack of effective planning or inadequate investment.

And the MPs noted that only 25 percent of the Government’s £5 billion to support roll-out to the hardest-to-reach premises will be made available during this period.

5G coverage

The Report finds the Government’s target for majority 5G coverage by 2027 ‘equally ambitious’, given rulings banning the use of equipment by high-risk vendors (i.e. Huawei).

“The Government’s decision to abandon its 2025 gigabit-capable broadband target within weeks of Ministers reassuring us of their commitment to it was a belated recognition that it was unrealistic and unachievable, underlining concerns we’d heard from industry,” said DCMS Committee Chair Julian Knight MP (Conservative).

“Valuable time has been lost, making meeting even the revised-down target a major challenge,” said Knight.

“On 5G, the Government’s target to deliver to the majority of the population, rather than the majority of the country, risks repeating the same errors that led to mobile ‘not-spots’ with investors cherry-picking areas of high population and leaving people in remote rural areas without a hope,” said Knight.

The government meanwhile said homes and businesses that did not yet have access to superfast broadband would be prioritised in the ongoing roll-out.

Government pledge

The government back in December 2019 had pledged to roll out gigabit-speed broadband to every home in Britain by 2025.

But last month the spending review by Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered a blow for the deployment of ultra-fast full fibre broadband in the UK.

That spending review was undertaken after the government had to urgently reassess its financial situation in light of its heavy spending during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

Because of the Covid-9 impact, the aim is to now have a “minimum of 85 percent coverage” by that date, although the £5 billion budget remains intact (but is delayed).

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously been outspoken about the need for the UK to accelerate the deployment of ultrafast fibre broadband across the UK, after he called for the technology to be made available to “every home in the land” within five years.

Prior to that, the government had originally set a goal of 2033 for the rollout of fibre to all premises, a target Johnson had previously called “laughably unambitious” – before the government set the 2025 deadline.

Openreach is onboard, and in July it detailed its plans to roll out next generation fibre connections capable of 1Gbps in the hardest to reach areas in the United Kingdom.

Commercial telecoms FTTP (fibre to the premise) is expected to reach 70 percent of UK homes without government help.

In January this year before the Coronavirus pandemic really began to hit hard, Openreach had announced it was ‘accelerating’ its full fibre build to ‘harder to reach’ market towns, villages & rural areas.

But it remains to be seen how the pandemic will affect things.

Openreach has however begun to switch off parts of the old copper-based network.

Earlier this month for example Openreach announced a ‘UK first’, after customers in the Wiltshire city of Salisbury became the first to switch to a full fibre network.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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