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Northern Ireland to Consult on £150m Ultrafast Broadband Boost

Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 (8:42 am) - Score 1,789
northern ireland uk map

Last year the Conservative UK government agreed to hand £75m per year (over two years) to “help provide ultra-fast broadband” (100Mbps+) across Northern Ireland, which formed part of a political deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in order to secure the support of their 10 MPs.

Since then there has been little movement, which is in no small part due to the on-going political deadlock that has been afflicting the N.I parliament in Stormont. Mercifully we’re not here to talk about the political struggles over that side of the sea and the good news is that N.I’s Department for the Economy (DfE) has finally begun “preparation work” for consulting on the new investment.

According to the BBC, the DfE now plans to conduct a “programme of engagement with political and industry stakeholders” to discuss how best to invest the £150m of additional funding (potentially worth c.£300m after match funding with councils/private investors etc.), which will be followed by the usual procurement process. We suspect that a new Open Market Review (OMR) will also need to be conducted in order to confirm precisely which areas will be in need of future intervention.

The OMR will be important, particularly in light of BT’s recent commitment to invest a further £20m across N.I in order to expand their coverage of “ultrafast broadband” services to a further 140,000 homes and businesses by March 2019 (here); reflecting 25% of the country. However most of this is likely to involve upgrades for existing areas (e.g. towns and cities) via FTTP and G.fast, rather than expanding coverage into more rural locations.

At present N.I already has universal coverage of “fibre broadband” (FTTC , FTTP or Cable DOCSIS) based networks but only around 86% of premises can actually access “superfast broadband” speeds of 24Mbps+ via those. This drops to a little over 30% for those within reach of an “ultrafast” connection and at present the latter is mostly thanks to Virgin Media.

Suffice to say that in our view N.I should be concentrating any state aid on boosting their coverage of superfast broadband to near universal levels rather than ultrafast, although no doubt the two aspirations could be combined in some areas. Much will depend upon both the technology mix and where they choose to target their investment.

The other big problem is one of time-scale. At this rate it could be 2020 before a new contract has been assigned and can begin its deployment, which might make it even harder for providers to meet the new 10Mbps USO (i.e. those that are chosen to supply the legally binding obligation) and could shift completion back to around 2022/23.

Another challenge is that N.I doesn’t have the same wide diversity of alternative network (AltNet) ISPs as mainland England, Scotland or Wales. Outside of Openreach (BT) and Virgin Media there are only a few fixed wireless ISPs and off-hand we can’t think of any FTTP/H altnets in N.I but they might still exist.

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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.
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1 Response
  1. Avatar JD

    The claim that NI has universal coverage of fibre broadband is not true. BT (at the instigation of the Regulator) have recently introduced a rebate for people who do not have access to fibre broadband (for which, I am a recipient).

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