Government Pledges Nationwide Full Fibre Broadband By 2033

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Need for speed. Government plan revealed for all households and businesses to enjoy 1Gbps by 2033

The government has today revealed its plan to ensure that the UK will enjoy “full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033.”

The ambitious plan, revealed in the government’s ‘Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review‘ will see the insistence of full fibre broadband for all new build homes, and a new priority to connect hard-to-reach rural areas.

It comes after the Chancellor Philip Hammond in May outlined his plan to invest in infrastructure to bolster the post Brexit economy in the years ahead. He pledged then to ensure that most homes and businesses (15 million premises) would by 2025 enjoy the benefits of a “full-fibre” connection.

Full fibre

“The new approach is aimed at driving large-scale commercial investment in the fixed and wireless networks that are vital for the UK to remain globally competitive in a digital world,” said the government in its announcement.

“The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), announced as part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, proposes the changes that are needed to give the majority of the population access to 5G, connect 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025, and provide full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033,” it said. “Full fibre infrastructure is vital to underpin 5G coverage.”

At the moment, the UK has only 4 percent full fibre connections and lags behind many of our key competitors Spain (71 percent), Portugal (89 percent) France (28 percent and increasing quickly).

“We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel,” explained Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright.

“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,” he added.

Nitty gritty

But how does the government plan aim to achieve such a lofty ambition?

Well according to the FTIR’s analysis, without any change in the years ahead, full fibre broadband networks will at best only ever reach three quarters of the country, and it would take more than twenty years to do so (by 2038).

So the FTIR report is making a number of key recommendations.

This includes new legislation that will guarantee full fibre connections to new build developments. Also operators will have a ‘right to entry’ to flats, business parks, office blocks and other tenanted properties for full fibre connectivity.

The government also plans to reform the regulatory environment for full fibre broadband “that will drive investment and competition and is tailored to different local market conditions.”

The government also said it plans to make “public investment in full fibre for rural areas to begin simultaneously with commercial investment in urban locations.”

Ofcom meanwhile will co-ordinate an industry led switchover (from copper to full fibre), and a new nationwide framework will be introduced to “reduce the costs, time and disruption caused by street-works by standardising the approach across the country.”

And not forgetting that another recommendation is that there is increased access to spectrum for 5G services; and infrastructure (including pipes and sewers) owned by other utilities such as power, gas and water, will be made be easy to access, and available for both fixed and mobile use.

Ofcom is also to reform regulation to allow unrestricted access to Openreach ducts and poles for both residential and business use, including essential mobile infrastructure, and the government will also allow mobile networks to make far greater use of Government buildings to boost mobile coverage across the UK.

“The FTIR will drive competition and commercial investment in full fibre networks across as much of the UK as possible,” said the government. “However there will be some parts of the country where it will be unlikely that that the market will be able to deliver alone.”

This means that in order to achieve nationwide availability of full fibre, the taxpayer will have to provide additional funding of around £3 billion to £5 billion to support commercial investment in the final 10 percent 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,” said the government.

Industry reaction

“We welcome the Government’s review, and share its ambition for full-fibre and 5G networks to be rolled out right across the UK,” said Sharon White, Ofcom chief executive.

“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,” she added.

BT meanwhile also made encouraging noises.

“We’re encouraged by the Government’s plan to promote competition, tackle red tape and bust the barriers to investment,” an Openreach spokesperson told Silicon UK via email. “As the national provider, we’re ambitious and want to build full fibre broadband to 10 million premises and beyond – so it’s vital that this becomes an attractive investment without creating digital inequality or a lack of choice for consumers and businesses across the country.”

“As the Government acknowledges, the economics of building digital infrastructure remain challenging for everyone, and we believe a review of the current business rates regime is necessary to stimulate the whole sector,” the Openreach spokesperson said. “We want everybody in the UK to have fast, reliable access to the internet and we’re actively working on ways to increase adoption of our superfast and ultrafast services across the country.”

Connectivity desire

“We’re already building full fibre to around 10,000 homes and businesses every week, and by 2020 we’ll have reached 3 million,” the spokesperson concluded. “We’re determined to be the dependable partner for Government, the industry and our 600 wholesale customers as we work to bolster Britain’s position as a global digital leader.”

The government has made no secret of the fact that it wants the UK to have a full fibre network as well as 5G connectivity going forward.

BT Openreach has already planned to reach 12 million homes by the end of the decade using a combination of fibre to the premise (FTTP) and G.Fast, which speeds up copper connections.

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