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

Monday, October 30th, 2017 (12:01 am) - Score 1,532
gigaclear rural path fibre optic broadband

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 is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.

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17 Responses
  1. Mike

    No we don’t we’re British, we need a half-assed solution so we have something to moan about for the next decade.

  2. Thou shalt love Fibre more than anything.

    All we need is the money to pay for it. Along with everything else we think we need.

    What we need is a “world-class” counter to count how many times we can get the phrase in a single article. Do we need any other words? It should have its own special key on every keyboard. Even better every other key should be the special key. We can they say it more than everybody else and it’ll be true, because we say it.

    I’m terribly old-fashioned. The internet is a transmission medium. It doesn’t “produce” anything. That’s the work that goes on behind the scenes. What other people pay for. And that’s the money we need to pay for it. The internet doesn’t make money grow on trees or manna fall from the skies. Though to deny it is heresy to the Fibre Religion, I know.

    The Ten Commandments:
    1. Thou shalt want nothing but Fibre.
    2.

  3. dragoneast

    posted too early:
    2. There is no god but Fibre
    3. Thou shalt love thy Fibre more than anything.
    4. Thou shalt want nothing but Fibre
    5. Fibre shalt produce all that thou wants
    6. Thou shalt not stand in the way of Fibre
    7. Fibre is the key to open the gates of heaven
    8. Fibre is thou mother and father
    9. Fibre delivers the whole and only truth
    10. There is no sin in a land of Fibre

    • NGA for all

      It is a medium with a much higher throughput and a lower long run incremental cost.

      It is one of the few affordable infrastructure upgrades and this is the challenge facing OR, but it is challenge since Telegraph days where upgrades mean you get more for a lower unit cost.

      There is a beauty in the Rev John Kerr’s work studying the flow of light through glass, and their is a beauty in special relativity. These upgrades are applying that science and much more to create more opportunities for more people. The griping here occurs where that potential is being denied some areas.

      The success and challenge of the Government work is showing and admitting how cheap it has been and how much more can be done with the funds available.

  4. TheFacts

    Calculation for 2027 and 80% please. What about LLU?

    • NGA for all

      80% of 30m= 24m or 2.4m a year. It could be 15 years.
      The interesting bit is the Gigaclear sees the need for a fibre transition plan and believe in their footprint, turning off telephony means customers migrate to a Gigaclear access network, becoming supplier of last resort for their footprint.

      This is more interesting take on a B-USO than the 2015 – 10Mbps based on the accepting the limitations of copper.

      The OR FTTP consultation on FTTP does not really make a transition from copper a condition of its proposed investment. It needs too if its to move from the stated view that its needs an extra £7 a month in wholesale fees. The latter will go no where.

  5. Optimist

    Once again a call for a Fibre To Absolutely Everywhere (FTAE) programme to be paid for, presumably, by taxpayers. Not that I blame the promoters, it is obviously far easier for them than risking their own money and finding customers to pay for it. Now I know this may come as a surprise to some, but there are people who would rather spend their money on other things than high-speed broadband! And then there are alternatives to FTAE, such as extending the life of the copper network, fixed or mobile wireless etc.

    I think what are needed are a review of the barriers to installation – planning restrictions and laws concerning wayleaves, and a reduction in the VAT on communication services to encourage take-up.

  6. John Miles

    Reality check:
    1) Most people only need 10 – 20 Mbit to watch one or two VOD TV channels, check their Facebook etc. There is no universal NEED for 1 Gbit or anything like that.
    2) Speeds faster than this (via FTTC) are available to about 90% of UK properties but only about 30% take it up. The bulk of the population do not see a need to pay for higher speeds (so are unlikely to want to pay for it via taxes or universal levies).

    There may be an argument for gradual replacement of copper plant by FTTH to eliminate active electronics in the street and reduce maintenance costs – but this would be a gradual self funded exercise. There is no good argument from bandwidth ‘needs’

    • NGA for all

      I concur with your final paragraph, but with a separated OR, then the lower long term costs supported by incentives to remove copper would permit a 15 year replacement plan.

      The need is odd, you can make do with whatever is available but the cost of denying the nation the potential of full fibre or the right to order it when needed does have a cost. Given the costs will be about half those portrayed in 2009, it is a goal worth going for.

    • TheFacts

      @NGA – what are the detailed steps needed to remove copper?

    • h42422

      When you browse through any forum dedicated to the topic, people are mostly complaining about lack of speed.

      In ten years, 4K tv will be obsolete, and probably also the technology that will succeed it. Those consumers who expect to have it all (today’s teens and young adults) are the customer base setting the baseline demand, not those who use the internet today for email and banking.

      As we have seen, giving homes even the 20 Mbps that would be required to stream 4K content, is still in progress, and we do not expect to be there even by 2020. If we now take the reactive approach again and expect the huge demand to be there first and then start planning for upgrades that would cater for just that, we would always be lagging behind.

      According to Thinkbroadband, 53.06% have access to ultrafast (>100 Mbps), so I am a bit sceptical 90% of UK properties have access to speeds faster than FTTC.

      I completely understand why OR are implementing G.Fast as it will give a nice speed uplift for some, and those who happen to be connected to cabinets and live nearby them, will be sorted for the time being. This will not be the complete solution, though, which I think as well that we need a fibre strategy.

      When everyone used ADSL, it was all more or less the same. Some of us got a bit faster speeds than the others, but differences were not that dramatic. Then came FTTC. Those of us with EO lines are still stuck with 2 Mbps as we did not benefit from it, while others are now getting 70. G.Fast will provide the speed uplift to 300 Mbps but only for those living a short distance from their cabinets. After G.Fast goes live, we will have three tiers. Us with 2 Mbps EO, those farther away from cabinets with 40 Mbps and the G.Fast category for 250-300 Mbps. There have been news of squeezing even more speed out of copper to gigabit speeds, but for even smaller group living even closer to their cabinets.

      This is where the strategy must come in.

      Every speed improvement on copper caters a smaller audience, and after each improvement a larger proportion of copper based users will have reached their end of line. Without any kind of proper strategy, it would be the cheapest and fastest to deliver fibre connections to those who already receive fastest speeds. But as the “end of line” -group keeps growing and financially it might not make much sense to bring many of them back to the copper speed race by installing more cabinets, the fibre strategy should be there to focus on tackling this.

      No, we do not need a strategy to bring fibre to every home by 2027, but we need a strategy that ensures everyone is safely in the ultrafast category by 2027. This will in practice require a massive fibre investment to give a speed boost to those who do not benefit from any copper based speed upgrades anymore.

      Now there is no real strategy, and niche fibre providers, Openreach and Virgin are mostly doing overlapping areas. A lot of money will be spent, and if Hyperoptic/Gigaclear, OR and Virgin all improve a property to gigabit speeds, two thirds of the spent money will always be dormant or wasted. And those living in the next street or village still struggle with 2 Mbps. With exactly the same investment both locations would have decent speeds and most even some kind of competition, if things were done differently.

  7. Tim

    I can’t see Gigaclear’s vision being in any way achievable. For example in the Fastershire BDUK area, Gigaclear bid for the Phase 2 areas a year ago. The contracts were finalized in February. Since then they haven’t even updated the roll-out schedule to mention these Phase 2 areas. When asked about schedules they say it is too early in the planning stage to give any information. It it take more than a year to plan, then I dread to think how long the roll-out will actually take.

    • Jeff

      Could not agree more, very poor show on the part of both Gigaclear and Fastershire. I have contacted them and have had the same response (as above) – I appreciate it takes time to plan but really do they have no idea, at this rate OR/BT maybe coming back (LOL).

      In all seriousness it really is very poor they have had months to update the plans both on the Gigaclear and Fastershire sites, when contacting Fastershire they bounce to Gigaclear and it now seems they are more interested in getting other contracts signed as opposed to making sure those that have been signed get built.

      It makes really good reading how far behind the build finish date has slipped (Strategy, website etc) and how the Fastershire website still says start of roll out in July (hello it is nearly November) but again the contracts were signed very early in 2017 and we are still waiting for more information.

    • Tim

      By the time Gigaclear build is complete in my area (2020?) it will be too late – I already have a home-brew solution that load balances an ADSL Max Premium line with Three 4G which is working well so far. ADSL gives me a fixed IP, 4G gives me speed, and the combined cost is less than Gigaclear would charge. And now BT have upgraded the exchange so in a week or so I’ll have ADSL2+ – and so will all the other potential Gigaclear broadband customers in my area.

  8. JAH

    Shame there’s no mention of Gigaclear coming to Wales. I fear Wales, especially the South Wales valleys is going to be left out.

    • James

      There’s penalties for small companies going into Wales – the Welsh language requirements add massive cost and complexity, so it’s unlikely they will till they get much bigger I guess. Surely there’s some Wales-based altnets kicking about that could get the ball rolling?

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