Funding in alignment with forward planning remains the largest barrier to speeding up this major national infrastructure project.
On a weekly basis ‘build and connect’ announcements are being made from all players in the market, it would seem that the UK is on the ball and powering ahead with its full fiber revolution.
The UK in general has improved its full fiber coverage up from 1 percent back in 2012, but it still playing a long game of catchup with the rest of the world. As of December 2020, the number of UK properties with access to full fiber to the premises (FTTP) connectivity sits at 5.1 million (18 percent of all premises). And according to research from Cable.co.uk, the UK sits at the unenviable position of 81st in Europe for FTTP connectivity and 47th in the World for broadband speed.
The UK government is also being more cautious on its pledges. In November 2020 it announced that it had rolled back its plans for ubiquitous ‘gigabit-speed’ broadband by 2025 – amending the figure to ‘a minimum of 85 percent’.
The ‘superfast broadband’ currently accessed by over 95 percent of UK premises, is delivered by Fiber-to-the-Cabinet (FTTC) technology – a blend of copper and fiber optic cables. The fiber only goes as far as the street cabinet and it’s the copper line that connects the cabinet to the premises. It’s a technology that was once world-leading but is no longer fit for purpose and may once have been enough to deliver the connectivity needs of a nation pre-pandemic. The lockdown struggles of home working, online education and healthcare, as well as virtual family connections, have been compounded by often patchy broadband – and the nation is demanding more.
What the UK needs a ubiquitous true full fiber to the premises (FTTP) network – a dedicated future-proof connection where the fiber optic cables are laid all the way into residential and commercial properties. One of the main barriers to the deployment of a UK-wide FTTP network is funding.
The cost of full fiber
With an estimated price tag of around £30billion building, and rolling out, a nationwide full fiber broadband network is no mean feat. It’s a major national infrastructure project. Primary responsibility for broadband policy and coverage targets sits with the government – telecommunications is a reserved power. And the full fiber infrastructure is an intrinsic part of the government’s investment in projects to improve the UK’s long-term competitiveness and help to kick-start the economy post-Covid-19.
With this in mind, the government made a series of budget announcements and pledges in 2020 to revitalize Britain’s broadband. All communicated as part of the nation’s levelling-up agenda. The Spending Review 2020 included £100bn of capital spending in 2021-22.
Fiber deployment during Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic is not entirely to blame for the slow fiber rollout. During the first lockdown in 2020, the telecoms industry was added to the list of the critical sectors vital to the government’s response to the pandemic. It also made the decision to actively encourage local authorities not to introduce blanket refusals of permits or notices for street works. In pre-Covid times, the process to get the greenlight to undertake street works to install fiber could take up to 3 months.
Access to gigabit connectivity is an integral part of 21st century living and vital for economic and socio-economic growth, transforming communities with ‘smart’ initiatives and improvements such as better access to employment, education and healthcare. As FTTP infrastructure is future-proof there will be no restrictions on the introduction of new applications and services.