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Chancellor Targets Full Fibre for Majority of UK Premises by 2025 UPDATE3

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 (8:07 pm) - Score 2,669
fibre optic coloured cable splay

The Government’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond MP, has this afternoon surprised and confused in equal measure by announcing that he wants to see the “majority” of UK homes and businesses being reached by Gigabit capable “full fibre” (FTTP/H) broadband ISP networks by the end of 2025.

The confusion aspect stems from the fact that in the very same paragraph Hammond has defined “majority” as 15 million premises, which if we exclude the potential for overbuild (i.e. rivals building FTTP/H in some of the same locations) in predominantly urban areas is still likely to be a touch shy of 50% coverage (not a majority) and if we consider that overbuild is a potential factor then it could be a bit further south of that ambition.

Previously the current Conservative government had only pledged to reach 10 million premises with ultrafast Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP/H) technology by the end of 2022 (here) and nearly all of that will be delivered by the commercial market (e.g. Openreach, Virgin Media, Hyperoptic, Cityfibre etc.). See our ‘UK Summary of Full Fibre Broadband Plans and Investment‘ for an outline of who is doing what, when and how.

Similarly at this point no additional public investment is being promised for the new goal and the commercial market already looks set to reach a similar number of premises via existing strategies by 2025. Currently the coverage is roughly 1.2 million premises (roughly 4% of the UK) but this is rapidly ramping up (details), thanks to major investment(s) in the technology. Sadly we’re still way behind most of the EU on this (here).

Philip Hammond MP, Chancellor, said (CBI Speech):

“Full fibre networks are faster, more reliable, and more affordable to operate than their copper predecessors.

Over a million premises already have direct access to them, but if we are to achieve our ambition of a truly high-speed economy, and keep up with our competitors, then we need a step change in our approach.

So this evening I will set a target to see full-fibre connections being available to 15 million premises, that’s the majority of homes and businesses, by 2025. This is ambitious and it will require industry to connect more than two million additional premises a year for the next seven years.

We won’t do that by government diktat. We will do it by creating the conditions for the market to deliver and we will use all the tools at the government’s disposal to ensure that target is met.

And we’ll go further, by committing to finish the job – and deliver a nationwide full-fibre to the premises network by 2033. Running both copper and fibre networks indefinitely will not benefit either the consumer or the industry, so we must start thinking now about that switchover and how to sharpen the incentives for industry to move customers away from copper and on to fibre.”

Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said:

“There has never been a more important time for Britain to harness the power of good business and good government. Firms have led the way on ideas to lift the UK’s productivity and spread great technology through British firms of all sizes – and now government is helping transform these ideas into action.

The UK’s digital infrastructure is the backbone of our future success, so businesses will warmly welcome the Chancellor’s commitment to widen full fibre broadband access, which will ensure the UK remains competitive as the pace of technologies change.”

In fairness the combination of Ofcom’s recent regulatory changes (making it easier to access Openreach’s existing cable ducts and a simpler electronic communications code etc.) and additional support from the government, such as via their 5 year business rates holiday on new fibre and several large investment funds or Gigabit voucher schemes, has certainly helped to push FTTP/H forward after a painfully slow start.

The Government’s forthcoming Telecoms Infrastructure Review, which is due to publish some early proposals this summer 2018, is now looking at what other changes or tweaks to the existing market could be made in order to further accelerate the rollout of true fibre optic broadband services across the United Kingdom.

We hope that the new review will work to tackle some difficult regulatory challenges, such as wayleaves and the complex question of shifting consumers from copper to optical fibre lines without upsetting those ISPs that have invested heavily in older copper networks (e.g. TalkTalk and Sky Broadband). Equally it will be important not to damage the existing progress being made by new alternative network providers (AltNets).

In closing, Hammond said that if everything goes well then “all” UK premises could be reached by a full fibre network come 2033, although going much beyond the 50% coverage mark may well require many billions more in public investment and of course delivery on this would be the challenge for a different government in the future. Different governments may have different plans.

UPDATE 8:37pm

A comment from Cityfibre has just come in.

Greg Mesch, Founder and CEO of CityFibre, said:

“The Chancellor’s announcement of more ambitious full fibre roll-out targets underlines more than ever the need to end the UK’s “make do and mend” approach to digital infrastructure: copper is dead. It is time to focus on building the future-proof full fibre networks that will underpin the UK’s economy for generations to come.

For this ambition to be realised, the Government and Ofcom must now rapidly set out a clear plan to lessen the country’s reliance on Openreach and harness the momentum and major investment being made by new entrants.”

UPDATE 23rd May 2018

A couple of extra comments dropped while we lay sleeping.

Tom Mockridge, CEO of Virgin Media, said:

“The Government’s ambition declared tonight at the CBI annual dinner for 15m FTTP by 2025 is a total mirage unless it takes effective action to liberalise property wayleave laws to allow new ducts to be constructed to carry fibre and requires BT to open up its existing ducts to new entrants. To-date the Government has done nothing effective on either of these fronts. FTTP can be deployed without Government subsidy. The major barrier to it is centuries’ old restrictions. Time to change”

Clive Selley, CEO of Openreach, said:

“We share the Chancellor’s full fibre vision for Britain. This year we’ll double our FTTP footprint and by 2020, we will have built to 3 million homes across the UK. We want to reach 10m premises by the mid-2020s, and believe we can ultimately fully-fibre the majority of the UK under the right conditions.”

Matthew Hare, CEO of Gigaclear, said:

“The Chancellor’s announcement is welcome news and addresses our calls for a national, full fibre plan, which is desperately needed to secure our future economic growth. However, we must not underestimate the sheer scale of the challenge.

Gigaclear is accelerating its commitment in pioneering the delivery of world class, ultrafast connectivity in rural locations and we can move even faster if the practical barriers that restrict the roll out of new full fibre networks are addressed.

It is only then that we will start to see full fibre broadband delivered on a truly national scale to every home and business. Gigaclear looks forward to seeing the detail behind this ambitious objective and will work with the Government to achieve a full fibre Britain.”

UPDATE 4:54pm

The body representing altnet ISPs, INCA, has just issued a statement.

Malcolm Corbett, INCA CEO, said:

“There is no reason why most of the UK cannot be served by full fibre and our members are fully supportive of making this happen.

However, there are steps that need to be taken in order to make Philip Hammond’s goal a realistic one. For one, we need to see more collaboration between the industry’s big players, such as BT Openreach and Virgin Media, and the altnets, to enable a future-proof digital infrastructure to be built quickly.

We have no doubt that there is investment available to deliver future-proof connectivity across Britain but there are many challenges and barriers to digital transformation. The Government can help a lot by taking a more co-ordinated approach between departments involved with local government, planning, transport and utilities.”

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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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28 Responses
  1. TheFacts

    How will he, here today, gone tomorrow, make it happen?

  2. Virgin

    Don’t believe any words what he say tories always a broken promise

  3. Rahul

    Hammond’s calculations are incorrect. He says 15 million premises to be reached in 7 years with 2 million targets being achieved every year. 2×7=14 million premises. So that means there will still be 1 million premises short off the target of 15 million.

    I don’t doubt that this is achievable. But there can be other external factors that can delay the process of the rollout. For example wayleave. This is a serious issue, I have been fighting last 3 years to get the Estate Building Managers to sign an agreement just for Hyperoptic even after all residents registered their interest.

    It all sounds easy but in reality things don’t always pan out that way. I was also under the same illusion. I printed out papers of the register interest pages and gave it to my neighbours but this effort is not respected and makes no difference to the outcome of the installation agreement.

    Now I am certain there will be hundreds of buildings/apartments with the same problem. This will definitely slowdown the rollout of FTTP. What will happen is that the authorities will at every single stage say “not now, but maybe in future”. These red tapes are what will delay the rollout of Fibre.

    Finally even after an agreement is met we will still have to wait for over a year for the fibre cable installation to be complete in those premises. I can see this in many buildings just in Hyperoptic that says “Building permission granted” but has remained that way for over a year now and I have not seen these buildings going live yet!

    We barely managed to get to 4% FTTP coverage, how are we going to get to 50% by 2025?!

    • Matthew Williams

      We are already at a million so 15 million would include that so 2 a year works.

    • Rahul

      Ha, I find that very sly! 😛
      Hammond is trying to take credit for the 1 million that’s already supported. Many of these premises already supported with FTTP are from Altnet providers and it took years to deploy. These I also do not consider government contributions.

      If Hammond can demonstrate evidence where he or his Tory colleagues have managed to persuade BT Openreach or other FTTP providers to lay more cables, help with wayleave agreements, further funding, etc then I’ll applaud him.

      But until we don’t see the 46% targets achieved in the next 7 years I’ll not believe it. In-fact I’ll be both surprised & happy to see 20% achieved in the next 7 years!

      It’s easy for them to talk and try and make us happy. But I won’t be convinced, simply when I see from my experience that I can’t even get the local Estate Building Managers to grant permission to Hyperoptic last 3 years! How is it going to happen for hundreds of other buildings that will also need wayleave granted!?

    • MikeW

      It is also 7.5 years to the end of 2025, so the same rate applies.

      Almost none of the future lines will be from a government contribution. And all they are adding here is hot air.

      IMHO, that hot air is part of an attempt to avoid the hard issue of the moment:
      Brexit. An attempt to big up good ol’ British industry, because our future will depend on the /appearance/ of being high-tech.

      It remains true, unfortunately, that the method of delivery doesn’t matter – just the speed alongside a product cheap enough to generate take-up. That’s what really matters to our use of internet access.

      But Brexit requires the /appearance/ of being forward-looking adventurers like the South Koreans or the Singaporeans. Hammond wants our infrastructure guys to be adventurous.

      Unfortunately, those in charge of DCMS and Ofcom want to keep their thumb on the scale to stop BT. And that means ever-present uncertainty over regulation, which kills any adventure stone dead.

      Smoke & mirrors. Style over substance. Fibre to the Press Release.

    • Rahul

      @MikeW: That’s exactly the reason why I am not optimistic.

      It’s not a case of just telling them to be inspired from Korea and Singapore. These countries have a long tradition with Fibre from many years. Many of their buildings were also newly built and newly cabled with Fibre.

      For example Hong Kong has 50Mbps since 1999. Singapore is only a 5.6 million population so it’s normal they’ll have 95% FTTP coverage in ratio to their strong economy. Countries in Europe like Bulgaria, Lithuania, Latvia, Sweden, etc are smaller in territory and population as well. It’s easier for them to have higher FTTP coverage.

      Also in countries like Bulgaria (where I am half Bulgarian myself). Law and order is weaker so telecoms have laid their fibre optic cables without any planning permissions at all. That’s why if you visit Bulgaria you’ll see everyone has for example individual Satellite dishes everywhere.

      Whereas here in the UK there are lots of restrictions and red tapes. You can’t put in a dish in most buildings without permission, you’ll get fined. Simple things here are more complicated than they are meant to be. I didn’t realise it’s so difficult to convince an authority to give permission to an ISP to install their FTTP network. I was fooled thinking that all we needed is registering interest from residents and that’s it mission accomplished. But that is so far from the truth. 3 different Hyperoptic Representatives have failed to convince my Building Managers to sign an agreement and book in a survey development for the past 3 years.

      Too many red tapes in the UK is what’s causing the delay in FTTP rollout. That’s why so many people get to settle with FTTC in the first place. Because it was difficult for BT Openreach to convince authorities to install Fibre optic cables inside residential blocks and properties.

      Hammond is a political parrot. These politicians are only talking but they are not addressing serious issues like red tapes. If I can’t convince an authority last 3 years to give Hyperoptic the permission to install in my building. How will FTTP coverage suddenly jump to 50% in next 7 years, it looks very unrealistic.

  4. John

    Sounds good. DO IT THEN!

  5. New_Londoner

    Ironic for the departing CEO of Virgin to say that this “requires BT to open up its existing ducts to new entrants” when his own employer does nothing regarding infrastructure sharing. Clearly a case of do as I say, not as I do!

    • occasionally factual

      And of course Greg Mesch, Founder and CEO of CityFibre, asking for no regulation on his company but expecting OFCOM to stop Openreach in its tracks.
      So he wants a monopoly in his name. That is not in the public good in any way, shape or form.

  6. Lewis

    Openreach are soon going to massively ramp up their FTTP deployment to existing areas via fibre drop cables. Currently our fibre teams are doing the customer connections which is a slow process but soon that will shift to service delivery. Infrastructure delivery will be delivering fibre to the pole and service delivery will connect the houses through drop cables like the majority now. They’re confident they can do around a street per day this way.

  7. NGA for all

    Has he just offered a copper access sunset date of 2033? This would transform how Openreach could go about things.

    • Joe

      Thats the logical reading of what he said. But it needs some thing tomake that happen. Not least Ofcom need a statutory duty to promote copper to fibre replacement in policy and regulatory action.

      “shifting consumers from copper to optical fibre lines ***without*** upsetting those ISPs that have invested heavily in older copper networks”

      Thats impossible Mark. Any progress that gets all rivals approval with be glacial. Investment is not a free entitlement to make money or to the rules never changing. They have sweated their copper long enough and can’t be allowed to hold back fibre

    • NGA for all

      The setting of an aspirational date is important. Conditions Exchange based investment had to be specially created, so a date 2033-35 will mean those assets will have been fully depreciated. The VULA decisions in 2010 have already triggered the end to exchange based investment.
      The propensity of BT to overuse VDSL using subsidy for business parks, thus blocking FTTP is as big a concern.

    • MikeW

      In this article, Hammond represents a battle within government. He needs the UK economy to work and appear to work. He needs us to be perceived like the Koreans and Singaporeans – where high-tech is an integral part of life. He needs us all to be clamouring for fibre.

      Unfortunately, Ofcom and DCMS have a different opinion. They want to keep everything cheap – which sets an unfortunate linkage in people’s minds – and simultaneously want to stop BT from doing anything. These people want us clamouring for the cheapest option. To keep it bottom of our spending priority lists.

      Rolling out fibre as per his plan is perfectly possible. But you need to unblock all the barriers – including the ones that constrain BT. And you need to retrain the population’s attitude to broadband … and have them looking forward to paying more for the better capability that money brings.

  8. Techman

    Oh brilliant. Guess i will have to make do with my 8mb fttc connection until 2033 then.

    • Joe

      USO should catch you long b4 then

    • Rahul

      Depends where you are in the UK. If you are in some rural area then maybe you’ll have to wait many more years. If you are in urban areas then there is hope for FTTP to come earlier than 2033.

      If theoretically 2025 covered 50% FTTP most probably these will be urban places. But since like you say you already have FTTC then they might not install FTTP. I don’t know how you’ve got FTTC with only 8Mbps. My understanding is that if a distance to cabinet is too far from the property to give in reasonable speeds then BT are not meant offer FTTC packages to you.

    • Ultrafast Dream

      With my creaking ADSL connection ( 2 ~ 6Mbps depending on the direction of the wind) I will be dead before I see Fibre down our Rural main road, so disappointing. With the anticipated USO I will fight BT/Openreach to the death to provide fixed access as our Exchange is a Market A one so no LLU!

  9. GNewton

    This country is already quite behind, full fibre for the majority should have happened years ago.

    While it is good to see some more ambitious fibre targets, it needs to be followed by actions:

    1) Ofcom needs to change its strategy
    2) Getting rid of VOA fibre tax
    3) Increase fibre prices
    4) Set an end date for copper LLU
    5) Work out a realistic investment fund and strategy for government and industry
    6) Stop funding old technologies like VDSL, stop wasting public money on BT

  10. St Chris

    Government has to address the Highway Authorities deliberate drive to raise funds via fines on the ISP’s. ISP’s are charged £ 1000’s of pounds for a white line missing on their reinstatement of trenches, when the rest of the street is already missing white lines due to lack of maintenance.

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