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Gigaclear CEO – UK Needs National Plan for “Full Fibre” Broadband Rollout

Monday, Oct 30th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 2,848

The CEO of rural fibre optic ISP Gigaclear, Matthew Hare, has told ISPreview.co.uk as part of a brief interview that the country needs a new “national plan“, which acknowledges and “prioritises” the need to roll-out full fibre (FTTH/P) broadband networks across the whole of the United Kingdom.

At present the Government’s main focus is on extending “superfast broadband” (24Mbps+) networks to cover 98% of premises by around 2020 and after that they aim to introduce a 10Mbps Universal Service Obligation (USO), which is largely intended to cater for those in the final 2% (mostly remote rural areas and possibly some disadvantaged urban pockets).

Separately the Government has also established an investment pot of around £600m to help foster the roll-out of “full fibre” ultrafast broadband networks (details), which should help to achieve their current target of expanding related coverage to 10 million premises by the end of 2022 (leaving roughly 23 million left to serve); most of this will come from commercial deployments.

So far Gigaclear, which recently secured £111m of additional private investment (here), has won a number of the Government’s related Broadband Delivery UK contracts and in total they expect to reach 150,000 premises in rural areas by around 2020 (mostly in England) via their 1Gbps+ capable Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network.

However Matthew’s vision goes much further than the Government’s and he wants to see “every property having at least one fibre network” (when Matthew says fibre he means real fibre, not slower hybrid solutions like FTTC), which he admits may require “further cross-subsidy if universal pricing is to be maintained.”

In Gigaclear’s world it should be possible, by 2027, for over 80% of UK properties to be put within reach of a true fibre optic network. By then the ISP’s CEO believes that the “default service” for residential customers will be 10Gbps and for businesses it could be as much as 100Gbps. This seems like a lofty expectation today but the real challenge is less with speed and more with getting all that fibre into the ground.

Meanwhile major operators, such as Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media, argue that their hybrid fibre networks should be able to keep up with modern demands for much of the UK (at least for now). Related upgrades to their existing hybrid fibre networks are often both significantly cheaper and many times faster to deploy.

For example, Virgin’s future upgrade to DOCSIS 3.1 should make Gigabit speeds viable via their existing network, although Openreach’s G.fast tech tends to suffer from much more variable performance due to loss of speed over distance (it’s more of a 100-300Mbps technology). On the flip side both of those operators have also pledged to deliver 2 million FTTP premises each by 2019 or 2020 and are considering doing a lot more.

Nevertheless the Government’s current targets fall well short of Matthew’s aspiration and it would take a huge multi-billion pound investment to deliver universal coverage of FTTP/H, as well as other key changes and a clear national delivery plan.

The Interview

1) What key changes could be made to UK planning / civil engineering rules in order to further improve the roll-out of FTTP/H networks?

ANSWER:

Building new FTTP networks across the country will require a number of changes. Firstly, we need a national plan that acknowledges and prioritises the need to roll out full fibre across the whole of the UK. This is the only way to secure ‘world-class’ connectivity and future proof the UK’s digital economy.

The use of automated build techniques, in particular narrow trenching, must also become common place along with the national adoption of modern highway reinstatement technologies. These technologies will dramatically reduce the need to transport spoil and will accelerate the completion of any roadworks.

Finally, a radical reform and automation of how utilities carry out work in the highway is urgently required. Manual processes must be removed to ensure that the entire process is dramatically improved and made more efficient.

2) Do you think that the Government’s new 5-year business rates holiday and £400m Digital Infrastructure Fund are enough, in terms of direct support (investment), to help alternative network providers roll-out FTTP/H networks to a big chunk of the UK or is more funding required?

ANSWER:

The Government’s renewed interested in encouraging infrastructure investment is certainly welcome. It also provides an opportunity to consider a longer-term solution to the rates issue which is especially welcome. However, to realise Gigaclear’s vision of every property having at least one fibre network will require further cross-subsidy if universal pricing is to be maintained.

3) What are your thoughts on Openreach’s G.fast roll-out to 10 million premises by 2020?

ANSWER:

G.fast will give many properties a boost in speeds that exceeds the performance of any existing copper connections. As a specialist rural operator, we would concur with the Minister that the longer-term future is full fibre, so however useful this is in the short term, G.fast must only be an interim step. As such, it is important that the regulated wholesale cost of G.Fast is set at a level that recovers this additional investment appropriately, and not allowed to be set so low that it dampens demand and discourages investment by all operators in full fibre infrastructure.

4) Openreach is currently consulting the industry on the possibility of a large-scale roll-out of FTTP, which could potentially reach up to 10 million premises by 2025. What are your thoughts on this and do you see it as a competitive threat to Gigaclear’s own roll-out?

ANSWER:

The UK has around 30 million homes and businesses, more than enough properties to support a competitive fibre market. And in urban areas, we expect that in time, these properties will have a choice of three full fibre networks. However, the economics of delivering full fibre in England’s most rural areas makes it very challenging for more than one operator to sustainably invest in the same community.

5) The Government has proposed a 10Mbps USO and BT has also proposed a voluntary one that closely matches that. What kind of USO would you have the UK set?

ANSWER:

The proposed 10Mbps USO is a pragmatic starting place but it will need to evolve. We question whether by the time the USO is delivered in 2021, 10Mbps will be fast enough.

As the broadband infrastructure market is now a competitive place, we think the USO mechanism should reflect that, and by reflecting the diversity of the market it will encourage more ambitious solutions for those households and business that find themselves with the poorest broadband. It is difficult to see how this can be achieved through BT’s voluntary proposal.

6) Where do you see Gigaclear and its network coverage being in 10 years’ time?

ANSWER:

Gigaclear has already committed to investing significant sums in delivering full fibre networks across southern England, from south Devon to the Essex coast. We look forward to continuing to invest as the country’s rural full fibre broadband specialist and by 2027 we aim to be the leading UK infrastructure operator in rural England.

By 2027, we foresee that over 80% of UK properties will have access to FTTP and we hope that a copper switch-off will be well underway across urban and sub-urban Britain.

Finally, we expect that the default service for residential customers will be 10Gbps and for businesses it will be as much as 100Gbps.

ISPreview.co.uk would just like to send a big THANK YOU to Matthew Hare for taking the time to respond to these questions, particularly as it was done at short notice.

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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 X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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