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NIC Wants UK Gov to Set Full Fibre Broadband Plan by Spring 2019 UPDATE2

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 917
red fibre optic cable blast 2017

The Government’s National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) has today published the United Kingdom’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment, which among other things calls for nationwide coverage of “full fibre” (FTTP/H) broadband by 2033 and for a related ‘National Broadband Plan‘ to be devised by Spring 2019.

The NIC, which is chaired by Sir John Armitt, consists of 7 commissioners including Dame Kate Barker, Professor Sir Tim Besley, Professor David Fisk, Andy Green, Professor Sadie Morgan, Julia Prescot and Bridget Rosewell. At present the NIC does not have statutory independence and their charter merely requires that the Gov respond to its recommendations “no more than a year after publication, and wherever possible within six months.”

At the time of writing we haven’t yet read the full report, although a sneak peek of the document seen by ISPreview.co.uk yesterday states that the broadband plan must deliver “full fibre connections across the whole of the country, including those in rural areas – this should ensure that the technology is available to 15 million homes and businesses by 2025, 25 million by 2030, and all homes and businesses by 2033.”

Building a digital society (Extract from the document)

The UK already has a strong digital economy underpinned by an extensive broadband network. But the superfast broadband programme that delivered this is coming to an end. While current digital connectivity is enough for current needs, demand for data is rapidly increasing; superfast broadband may not be sufficient for the future.

The Commission’s judgement is that the government should act now to deliver full fibre across the country; in the Commission’s social research, 86 per cent of people agreed that all parts of the UK should have equal access to broadband. Full fibre broadband is the likely next step in digital connectivity. It is more reliable and cheaper to maintain than today’s part copper, part fibre broadband connections. But it will take at least a decade to build nationally. Government needs to make a decision on full fibre now to avoid the risk of the UK being left behind in years to come. Full fibre will deliver benefits compared to current broadband even if the expected demand growth does not materialise. Enhanced digital connectivity will also facilitate the development of smart infrastructure: infrastructure with digital connections, enabling more efficient management and maintenance.

To encourage full fibre rollout, the government should put in place a national broadband plan by the end of 2018. Ofcom should provide certainty to commercial investors and encourage further private sector delivery of full fibre. With this certainty from government and Ofcom, most urban areas are likely to receive full fibre just through the promotion of market competition. However, full fibre will still need to be subsidised in some areas where commercial players are unlikely to deliver it. This should begin with the locations least likely to receive broadband commercially. With these plans in place, nationwide full fibre connectivity should be available no later than 2033.

Funnily enough the above sounds more or less identical to the Government’s new targets (here), which aim to achieve 10 million premises passed with “full fibre” (FTTH/P) by the end of 2022, rising to 15 million premises by 2025 and then there’s an aspiration to “deliver a nationwide full-fibre to the premises network” by 2033 (the latter will need masses of public funding and may not hold as government’s change).

The 2025 target will probably be achieved with existing commercial investment and support, while the 2033 aspiration is currently very vague and has no solid strategy or funding behind it. This is hardly surprising since the competitive commercial market is only just getting to grips with deploying FTTH/P at a large-scale.

Usually government’s like to give the private sector time to work these things out for themselves, before they go around offering big wads of public cash that might risk distorting commercial plans. Suffice to say we’d be surprised if a multi-billion commitment of public funding was made anytime soon, but you never know.

Sir John Armitt said:

“Whether it’s electric or driverless cars, new energy sources, tackling the risk of climate change or preparing for the newest and fastest broadband speeds, the issues we’ve been considering profoundly affect people’s everyday lives.

The whole purpose of the UK’s first-ever National Infrastructure Assessment is to think beyond the technologies of today and to ensure we can make the most of future innovations. It’s why it’s not just a one-off but something we will be repeating every five years to ensure we remain on the front foot.

This is not some unaffordable wish-list of projects: it sets a clear direction for how to meet the country’s future infrastructure needs, and makes a realistic assessment of what can and should be delivered within the stated aim of Ministers for steady and continued investment over the coming years.

I therefore look forward to the Government’s response to our report, and seeing how our recommendations can become reality.”

In fairness the Government has already begun acting to boost FTTP/H connectivity, not least via new regulation from Ofcom’s Strategic Review (details) and a 5 year business rates holiday on new fibre optic lines, as well as improvements to the Electronic Communications Code (here) and several large funding schemes to support 5G or “full fibre” development (here).

The result has been to encourage a lot of alternative network (AltNet) ISPs to significantly grow their plans, while the incumbents are doing the same. For example, Hyperoptic now aims to cover 2 million premises with FTTH/P by 2022 (aspiration for 5 million by 2025), while Vodafone with Cityfibre will reach 1 million by 2021 (aspiration for up to 5 million by 2025), Virgin Media hope to build 2 million, Openreach will do 3 million by 2020 and hopefully 10 million by 2025 etc. (see our ‘Summary of Full Fibre Broadband Plans and Investment‘ for more).

But as we’ve said before, anything happening around 2033 is likely to involve a different government and political ambitions or economic realities can easily change. In other words, the only real way to build and ensure a solid strategy that could last up until 2033 is to establish one with cross-party support (easier said than done given the current ideological divisions between parties).

An Openreach Spokesperson said:

“We share the Government’s full fibre vision for Britain. This year we’ll double our FTTP footprint and by 2020, we will have built it 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.

This is an expensive, complex, once-in-a-generation engineering project which the industry can only deliver with longer term certainty over the return on investment.

We therefore agree with the NIC’s view that to achieve the 2033 ambition, the UK needs to cut the cost of full fibre deployment, promote a competitive market with a stable regulatory regime, and commit to deregulate in areas where competition is effective.”

All of this naturally comes just before the Government are due to set out their stall on this subject via the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, which will form the foundation for everything discussed above. Speaking of political instability, this discussion could soon be a moot point if the current Brexit crisis results in yet another snap General Election during the autumn.

UPDATE 10:33am

Added a comment from Openreach above.

UPDATE 3:35pm

Added a comment from Gigaclear below and the full report is now available here.

Mike Surrey, CEO of Gigaclear, said:

“We welcome the National Infrastructure Commission’s assessment. We fully support its call for a National Broadband Plan to deliver full fibre connections across England, including rural areas, by Spring 2019. At Gigaclear, our mission is to address the rural digital divide by delivering only future proofed full fibre, and we have seen first-hand how transformative this connectivity is for those who live and work in rural areas.

Through the Government’s BDUK programme, Gigaclear will have installed new full fibre connections to approximately 150,000 rural premises by the end of 2020; this is in addition to the 150,000 premises connected under our commercial build programme. Without further Government support, the remaining rural areas are likely to be left behind. Full fibre infrastructure offers enormous potential to the UK’s digital economy, and we look forward to working with the NIC, Government bodies and other parties involved to help drive the transformation to deliver gigabit connectivity to rural England.”

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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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8 Responses
  1. Meadmodj

    They need to specify their forecast speed up/down by 2033 otherwise the report is meaningless as basic FTTP will probably been achieved by then but come in its many limited flavours. Current FTTP installations need to be more future proof with less dependency on wireless. Otherwise yet again we build interim networks that then have to be replaced. This is where we should have been years ago.

    • So far as the local access network goes, the optical fibre cable itself, which is the most costly bit to install, is no longer a barrier to speed and thus you don’t really need to define a specific performance target like before.

      Current FTTP installations need to be more future proof with less dependency on wireless.

      I don’t follow the wireless remark, what has that got to do with FTTP?

    • Meadmodj

      Sorry badly written.
      Wireless: Some areas of the UK are becoming dependant on wireless solutions. These will need to be be replaced long term. So we should be clear when public funding should insist on FTTP instead.
      FTTP: From my understanding the main technology currently preferred (commercially viable) is GPON and it appears certain Altnets are using alternative solutions with powered cabinets (means equipment?) and other solutions to distribute. GPON is finite (timeslots) and although in the future faster OLT and OTNs can be installed it still means the network optic design will be set to current requirements such as 64:1 or 32:1. It is also not the individual “line” but the actual bandwidth experienced. Current FTTP probably has plenty of capacity but that may not be the case as data demand continues to increase over the decades. My point is that it would be helpful if instead of using generic terms such as FTTP that the technical targets of speed up/down, latency, error rate etc are clearly stated so that where possible network designers are considering whether to future proof or limit their design knowing its practical life. We don’t even know the quality of the fibre they are using (performance/life).

    • Fair point. I believe Openreach are using XGPON rather than GPON in many of their latest FTTP deployments (500Mbps/1Gbps services vs 330Mbps). Of course that side of the network is easier to upgrade in the future, once the cable is in the ground.

      Lifespan of the cable itself is an interesting question. I’ve always been told that operators work to a design life of around 25 years, but that doesn’t mean to say the cable has to be replaced at that point. Heck a few operators expect it to last for around 100 years.

    • Meadmodj

      Possibly in the laboratory. Much will depend on the specification but possible more importantly the bending and stresses during installation. Each section of the network may be different. But subsequent digging will probably the biggest factor.

  2. AndyC

    So if they want everyone on fttp who gets to build it or dont they care just as long as someone does.

    I can see a future where someone like hyperoptic come and fibre a street but only they sell on that fibre so all the providers who also sell can’t get those customers and if you change providers you then have to have another strand and another converter box and another bbu fitted.

    Surely for this to work properly all providers must be made open to all sellers or you will completely kill competition in areas.

    Or am i completly wrong in this thinking and this “monopoly provider” is now the preferred goal?

    • Meadmodj

      Up to Ofcom. Too many investors now for nationalisation. BT is deemed currently as having SMP (based on copper and current regulatory legislation). This SMP may change for BT or be applied to their competitors. Certainly for the next few years we will have geographical monopolies for Ultrafast/Giga. This NIC body is yet another bunch of bureaucrats (being paid by us) telling us what we knew back in the 80s that we need to use fibre and not copper for speed/distance.

  3. Rahul

    I promise you all that the UK will not reach 50% FTTP coverage by 2025 and 100% FTTP coverage by 2033! Write that somewhere in your diaries! If the UK can jump from 4% to 10-15% in the next 7 years that will be amazing!

    As I said so many times I can’t even make an agreement with my building authority just to give Hyperoptic the permission to install Fibre Optic Broadband for over 3 years despite getting all of the residents to register their interest and you expect 50% FTTP coverage by 2025 and 100% by 2033?

    UK sits at 4% FTTP but Philip Hammond promises 50% coverage by 2025 and 100% coverage by 2033 for Full Fibre Broadband. Yet my area last 5+ years hasn’t even been upgraded to FTTC. Now on a plan for FTTP by BT Openreach which will have the same wayleave issue universally across the entire country.

    It’s easy to make these promises. Because Philip Hammond and the Tories know they’ll probably lose the next general election because of the failure of Brexit not happening and they’ll most probably not even make a single trade deal agreement. So when Labour wins Hammond and the Tories will then be able to put all the blame on the Labour party for not achieving 100% FTTP by 2033!

    This is all a political manipulation. Just like Brexit and the 350 million pounds that would be funded for the NHS each week. That lie in itself is enough to change the result of the referendum making it inaccurate. But this is how the Tories managed to win the last election through lies. Don’t fall for the same trap because it’s not going to happen!

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