UK sets ambitious fibre broadband goal under new internet strategy

24 Jul 2018

London city. Image: Songquan Deng/Shutterstock

The UK has unveiled some lofty broadband targets aiming to bring fibre to every home by the year 2033.

Earlier in 2018, the UK managed to hit its goal of broadband speeds in excess of 24Mbps for 95pc of users.

Now, the department for digital, culture, media and sport (DCMS) wants every home across the UK to be equipped with full-fibre broadband by 2033, with 15m premises to be covered by full fibre once 2025 rolls around.

The UK broadband plan has a range of goals

It also wants to provide 5G cellular network coverage to the majority of the population and has mandated that all newly built homes have fibre built in. Fibre doesn’t suffer the same issues as copper connections, so the formerly aspirational 24Mbps services that were touted several years ago are actually slightly out of date – gigabit-capable, full-fibre infrastructure is the next step.

This government-led initiative in the UK should see the rate of fibre availability grow much faster. The government is set to provide between £3bn and 5bn to ensure companies invest in bringing fibre to rural areas, according to ISPreview, with the total level of investment required for the national roll-out of full fibre around £30bn in total.

A study carried out on behalf of the administration showed that investment at a government policy level is crucial to bring fibre to the entire UK. Without political intervention, the deployment of fibre would take more than 20 years and serve only 75pc of the population at the very most.

The government said: “Running copper and fibre networks in parallel is both costly and inefficient, and a ‘fibre switchover’ strategy will be necessary to stimulate demand for fibre, to enable new networks to achieve scale quicker and to ensure a smooth transition process for customers.” This transition will be coordinated with Ofcom and the government hopes it will be led by industry.

“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,” added Jeremy Wright, DCMS secretary of state.

Only 4pc of the UK has full-fibre connections, whereas countries such as Spain (71pc) and Portugal (89pc) are streets ahead. In terms of the countries with the highest percentage of fibre, South Korea is at 99pc and Japan follows at 97pc.

How does Ireland compare?

The UK’s mission to become a high-speed fibre internet region has been ongoing for some time, but it has not been without its obstacles. In an annual league table of broadband speeds in 200 countries revealed earlier this month, the UK came in at number 35 while Ireland followed at 36.

Ireland’s National Broadband Plan (NBP) was launched in 2012 by then Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte, TD, outlining goals to accelerate broadband deployment in the country. As John Kennedy noted, the roll-out of said plan has been less than smooth.

The NBP only has one bidder left in the running – the Enet-SSE consortium – following the exit of Eir and Siro from the bidding process. The plan’s present scope is to deliver a minimum of 30Mbps to almost 550,000 premises.

Rumours have been swirling that a new NBP could be tabled, relying on 5G and LTE.

Kennedy wrote: “The folly in this, however, is that you cannot have even a proper wireless broadband network without fibre to every base station. In a country of hills, valleys and boreens, this will turn out to only vex rural dwellers and hold back their economy, resulting in the need for a new plan in just a few more years.”

If the UK is pushing fibre deployment alongside many other developed countries, it could be difficult to justify such a change of plan to Irish consumers suffering under the digital divide.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects