All new build homes will be fitted with full-fibre broadband connections under proposals set out in a new national, long-term telecoms strategy announced by the government Monday.
The strategy, drawn up by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), seeks to encourage private investment in infrastructure to meet government targets of delivering full-fibre an additional 15 million premises by 2025, achieving full-fibre coverage by 2033, and providing widespread access to 5G in the coming years. Full-fibre connections will be necessary to support the rapid speeds and large bandwidth of the fifth generation mobile network, which currently only exists in test labs.
The proposals come just weeks after news that the UK has slipped to 35th place in global broadband league tables. Average connection speeds in Britain lag behind those in 25 other European countries, largely due to lack of full-fibre infrastructure.
According to government statistics, just 4% of UK premises have full-fibre connections, compared to 95% of premises in Portugal and 79% in Spain. Broadband infrastructure provider Openreach has previously rejected full-fibre or FTTP (fibre to the premises) connections as too expensive to roll out. Most superfast internet in the UK is delivered over slower FTTC (fibre to the cabinet) infrastructure, which uses the traditional copper phone wires for the ‘last mile’ between the street cabinet and individual homes.
The government’s plans aim to bridge this last mile by driving large-scale commercial investment in full-fibre through competition and consumer demand. In addition to requiring full-fibre connections as standard in new build homes, the government will grant telecom operators “right to entry” to flats, office blocks, business parks, and tenanted properties, to allow consumers to choose the fastest broadband package at the best price.
Additionally, the plan recommends access should granted to utilities infrastructure including pipes and sewers and to Openreach’s ducts and poles, for use by operators to deliver both fixed and mobile broadband. Mobile network providers will be able to make greater use of government buildings to boost 4G and eventually 5G coverage across the UK.
"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,” said DCMS Secretary Jeremy Wright about the strategy.
However, the government acknowledges that the market may not deliver full-fibre infrastructure to remote, sparsely-populated areas, which are currently struggling with the slowest internet speeds in Britain. Reaching the last 10% of premises will likely require public investment of between £3 billion and £5 billion. The strategy pledges £200 million from the existing superfast broadband programme for use in the immediate delivery of full-fibre connections in rural areas.
“We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel,” Wright said.
Full-fibre broadband and 5G mobile connections will not simply increase the speed at which we browse the web, the government emphases. Faster internet and more reliable mobile connections will deliver new commercial opportunities in sectors including manufacturing, energy, transport and healthcare.
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