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INCA and UK ISPs Call for Near 100% FTTP Broadband Cover by 2030

Thursday, September 8th, 2016 (5:49 am) - Score 1,157
fibre optic orange cable blast 2016

The Independent Networks Co-operative Association, which represents alternative network ISPs like Sky Broadband and Gigaclear, will today publish a report that calls on the Government to set a target for 80% of the UK population to have access to a pure fibre optic FTTP/H broadband connection by 2026; and “near universal” cover by 2030.

The ‘Building Gigabit Britain‘ report, which was created in consultation with members including various national players (e.g. Sky Broadband, Vodafone, Cityfibre, Hyperoptic, Gigaclear, Relish Wireless, ITS Technology, WarwickNet and others), outlines a number of bold measures that it wants to see the Government adopt in order to facilitate the wide-scale deployment of Gigabit (i.e. 1000Mbps+ or 1Gbps+ if you prefer) capable Fibre-to-the-Premise (FTTP) networks.

The Key Recommendations

1. The Government should be targeting for 80% of businesses and homes to have pure fibre connections by 2026, with near universal cover by 2030.

2. The suspension of all business rates on new fibre assets (aka – Fibre Tax), for the next ten years, and ensure the launch of the proposed Broadband Investment Fund.

3. Develop regulation that encourages both competition and continued private sector investment, such as easier / more affordable access to private land (Electronic Communications Code) and ensuring that BTOpenreach’s governance does not inhibit investment by alternative networks.

4. An overhaul of advertising guidelines, with greater clarity for customers on connectivity quality (i.e. make clear the differences between pure fibre optic (FTTP/H) and slower hybrid copper-fibre (FTTC/HFC) solutions).

5. Ensure efficient use of public subsidies and assets, such as via tight and strictly enforced rules to prohibit the overbuild of FTTP networks using public subsidy.

ISPreview.co.uk recently estimated that around 779,006 premises in the United Kingdom (up from 351,642 last year) were able to access a FTTP/H connection at the end of June 2016 (here), with Openreach (BT) catering for about half of those. Sadly that’s still only a small fraction of the United Kingdom’s 26.7 million households, but there’s a lot planned for the future.

However the new report claims that altnets alone have already passed more than 650,000 premises with pure connections (that’s around 1 million if you add BTOpenreach’s coverage) and they are even forecast to pass 4.9 million premises (18% of the UK population) with FTTP by 2020.

Apparently this is estimated at 1.5 million more premises than BT and Virgin’s networks combined (BT plans to do 2 million and Virgin 1 million by 2019-2020), although the report provides no solid data to confirm the figures (it’s based on a member survey). Certainly we have a pretty good idea of what various ISPs aspire to deliver in that time-scale, but ambition vs reality don’t always stack up.

INCA’s report proceeds to state that only the deployment of pure fibre infrastructure, supporting vastly greater speeds (including symmetrical upstream and downstream performance) and lower latency than copper or hybrid networks, will support the UK’s growing needs. “Fibre networks are [also] needed to support the growth of both fixed wireless and mobile wireless services,” says the group.

Malcolm Corbett, CEO of INCA, said:

“Unless the UK Government takes action, we will be faced in the very near term with a clear divergence between supply and demand in our digital communications. The UK has some of the lowest pure fibre deployment in the OECD, yet our economy is one of the most digital in the world, which is dependent on our digital infrastructure.

We urgently need to upgrade to pure fibre connections and government needs to act by setting the vision and framework to encourage competitive investment. The Altnets are doing a great job. Five years ago few of them existed, today they provide more than twice as many FTTP connections as BT and many more offer great wireless broadband services. These are the people Building Gigabit Britain and if we don’t encourage and support their much needed investment, the UK’s economic position will be put at risk.

Increasingly government ministers and agencies like Broadband Delivery UK (which invests in rural broadband) are recognising the vital role of the Altnets. But more needs to be done. We have presented a number of recommendations, which, if followed, will not only help the telecoms industry to meet and exceed their current deployment plans – without Government subsidies – but will also ensure our nation’s fibre infrastructure is future-proofed.”

Some of what INCA desires (e.g. the Broadband Investment Fund and Openreach’s greater separation from BT) is already being tackled, although as usual the biggest challenge in achieving the 80% and 100% (universal) coverage target is one of both money and political desire.

Earlier this year the Government’s former Digital Economy Minister, Ed Vaizey MP, said that he would expect to start seeing “Gigabit” (1000Mbps+) speed broadband from 2020-25 (here). “I fully expect to get to a specific tipping point at the end of this decade in terms of those kinds of speeds being seen by the majority of people,” said Vaizey. At present only a few ISPs offer 1Gbps, with limited coverage.

However officially the Government appears happy to verbally support BT’s commercial roll-out of 300Mbps+ G.fast technology and Virgin Media’s similarly fast HFC + FTTP based DOCSIS network, which should reach about 60-70% of the UK by 2020 before the need for public funding resurfaces. Virgin may be able to deliver 1Gbps+ by adopting DOCSIS 3.1, but going beyond the 60-70% mark isn’t likely to be commercially viable for them.

So far nobody in the Government has revealed a firm strategy to foster universal Gigabit FTTP/H or even simply “ultra-fast” connectivity (i.e. 100Mbps+ or 300Mbps+, depending upon your definition), although this would be most likely to focus on the final 30% of the UK where the economic model becomes more of a challenge for commercial deployments (too expensive).

A significant amount of public investment might thus be required to push pure fibre optic connectivity out to every home and businesses, which would be a very difficult thing to balance without hurting the very alternative networks that INCA supports; hence why their report calls for appropriate protection against overbuilding.

Sadly such investment seems unlikely to surface while the country is still struggling to tackle £1.6 trillion of Government debt, which has just been made a bit more challenging by the Brexit vote. However the opposition Labour Party’s embattled leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has recently proposed to set £25bn towards the task (here).

Admittedly Corbyn’s proposal probably doesn’t stand much chance of gaining traction, at least not unless he wins the next General Election and that isn’t until 2020. However what his proposal has done is provide some competitive political pressure, which could become more potent if he wins the current leadership contest and that may encourage the Government to be more ambitious.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
4 Responses
  1. Avatar TheFacts

    Well they would, wouldn’t they.

  2. Avatar Gadget

    Not sure how to reconcile INCA claim of supplying more than twice the FTTP connections than Openreach with the ISPreview figures (http://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2016/08/pure-fibre-optic-ftth-broadband-networks-cover-780000-uk-premises.html)……

    I’m also concerned that the whole debate for FTTP/H is even mentioning Wireless in the same release.

    • I wonder if they’ve included dedicated business lines or something like that, hard to know without seeing the data. ISPreview.co.uk’s figures were based largely on actual publicly available information to June (we broke that down in the story), combined with confidential data supplied by Point Topic for most of the altnets. So they’ve found a huge number from somewhere.

      It’s worth considering that some operators, like Cityfibre, have a.. ehumm.. unique hypothetical definition of coverage called “addressable market” that effectively makes them seem much bigger than they are (as a result we only counted their known “premises passed” in York and Bournemouth).

    • Avatar Gadget

      Mark – just for the record I have more confidence in your figures (with their clear explanation of what you measured).
      I’ve no objection to premises passed as a measure but believe there is a “grey” area for clarification by operators about the amount of work and distance of the uninstalled final drop to the customer

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