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Boris Johnson Pledges Full Fibre for All UK by 2025 – Doesn’t Say How UPDATE

Monday, June 17th, 2019 (8:21 am) - Score 5,842
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In-between skipping TV leadership debates the current front-runner to be the United Kingdom’s next Prime Minister, Boris Johnson MP, has made the rather striking pledge toward “delivering full fibre [broadband] to every home in the land” by 2025. Naturally he fails to say how this would be funded or even possible.

The headline claim, which was made as part of his column in the Telegraph newspaper (paywall), sees the leadership candidate belittling his own Government’s “laughably unambitious … deadline” (technically it’s an aspiration since they haven’t yet set out the full detail of precisely how we’ll actually achieve nationwide coverage) and replacing it with a significantly more aspirational one.

Just to recap. The current Government has committed to deliver ultrafast Gigabit capable “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband ISP connections to 10 million UK premises by 2022, then 15 million premises by 2025 and there’s also an aspiration for “nationwide” coverage by 2033 (here).

At present the main focus has appeared to be on laying the groundwork for this with targeted investment, as well as the softening of regulation and a business rates holiday etc. (i.e. encouraging the market to do as much of the work as possible first via a value for money approach), albeit without putting the billions of pounds on the table that would be necessary to tackle the hardest to reach areas. The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review provides a good foundation for all of this.

Boris Johnson MP said:

“[It’s] a disgrace that this country should suffer from a deep digital divide, so that many rural areas and towns are simply left behind.

The government has just set a new target for the 100% roll-out of full fibre broadband – by 2033. As a deadline, that is laughably unambitious. If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full fibre to every home in the land not in the mid 2030s – but in five years at the outside.

Let’s say goodbye to the UK’s manana approach to broadband and unleash full fibre for all by 2025.”

Top marks for the bold aspiration but what’s less clear is how this would even be possible. We have yet to see any country – except maybe for the odd city-state with very different considerations to the UK – where rolling out a Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network to cover every single premises wasn’t an incredibly slow and laborious project.

Even when you have all of the funding in the world, there’s no escaping the realities of such complex civil engineering, which does tend to take a couple of decades in a big country like ours. Sadly Boris doesn’t say how much his plan would cost, not to mention where the masses of skilled short-term labour / equipment would come from (there’s already a shortage on this front and if you could find all those people then that’s a lot of workers suddenly losing their jobs after 2025) or how he might tackle other complex problems, such as with ensuring fair competition between ISPs and managing overbuild etc.

The political process required to develop and consult upon such a plan would almost certainly take a couple of years to run its course, which is without even considering the procurement / tender process before building could begin (it took the original Broadband Delivery UK programme from 2010 to 2013 to get all this foundation fully implemented). Sadly by then you’re only left with just 3-4 short years to achieve a task that looks, frankly, almost impossible in the current climate.

Consider for a moment that it may take 5G mobile technology around the same length of time to achieve 90-95% geographic coverage, which is a wireless communications network that doesn’t even need to build fibre down every street and already has a lot of the necessary infrastructure (masts) in place, and you start to appreciate the problem with Boris’s proposed time-scale.

Perhaps a Disney princess could flick her wand and solve all of these obstacles (realities) but we don’t live in fairy tales. As ever, such things are easier said than done. Likewise any new pledge from a political party or politician seeking election, particularly one concerning broadband connectivity and massive public spending, should always be taken with a pinch of salt until we have some solid detail.

Once again. None of this is to disagree with the actual goal of achieving nationwide coverage of a full fibre network, which ISPreview fully supports. But at least the 2033 aspiration has some chance of being achieved, even if we doubt whether the job will be done by the time that date is hit.

NOTE: We normally only cover broadband or mobile pledges made by party leaders (i.e. those seeking Government in a general election), but this one was too interesting to ignore.

UPDATE 10:59am

National telecoms operator Openreach, which would in such a scenario be likely to shoulder much of the burden for a national FTTP deployment, has furnished us with the following comment.

An Openreach Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“It’s hugely ambitious, but so are we.

We agree that full fibre can be the platform for the UK’s future prosperity and no company is investing more, building faster or aiming higher than Openreach. We aim to reach four million homes and businesses by March 2021 and up to 15 million by mid 2020s if the conditions are right.

We’re already in decent shape when it comes to ‘superfast’ broadband, which is more widely available here than in almost any other comparable nation on earth – and has led the UK to have the leading digital economy in the G20.

But building full fibre technology to the whole of the UK isn’t quick or easy. It requires £30 billion and a physical build to more than 30m front doors, from suburban terraces to remote crofts.

We’re determined to lead the way and there’s a lot that Government could be doing now to help us go further and faster.”

UPDATE 12:21pm

The UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA) has added its comment.

Andrew Glover, ISPA Chair, said:

“Boris Johnson’s ambitious commitment to achieve full fibre coverage by 2025 is welcome, but needs to be matched with ambitious regulatory change, including reform of the Fibre Tax. Broadband is a largely privately financed infrastructure and together with outdated planning laws, fibre business rates are holding our members back from accelerating their roll-out plans.”

UPDATE 2:04pm

Full fibre developer VX Fibre has added their opinion.

Richard Watts, Business Development Director of VX Fiber, said:

“Although this is an admirable pledge by Boris Johnson, it is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly and without an acknowledgement or a true understanding of the UK’s current connectivity situation. Indeed, connecting Britain – ensuring that every citizen has access to high-speed internet – should be a key priority for the UK government. Especially considering the economic (regeneration, innovation and business growth) and social-economic benefits (access to healthcare, education and better delivery of public services) internet access brings. Compared to the rest of Europe, we currently sit embarrassingly close to the bottom of the connectivity list when it comes to Full Fibre.

However, the reality is that the UK does not have the correct infrastructure in place for this to happen. The UK government should look to Sweden as an example from which to take the lead, as its high-speed internet connectivity is deployed through full fibre networks all the way to the end user. They have a government pledge for 100% gigabit speed full fibre for the entire nation by 2025 but they have been at it for 15 years and currently over 90% deployment already! Faster internet across urban and rural Britain will only be made possible once the UK has installed its own full fibre network – replacing the current copper infrastructure which has served its purpose but is not fit to deliver the UK’s digital future. And with this, that every premise i.e. home, business, public building, etc, as well as 5G masts, has fibre served directly to it.

UK government funds and initiatives such as the Digital Infrastructure Investment (DIIF) fund investing in fibre rollout, and the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge fund, are going some way to help with this. But there are crucial considerations that need to be addressed if we are to oil the wheels of the UK’s 5G and broadband machine. Deploying the infrastructure (full fibre network) takes time – it requires updated planning policies, regulation and collaboration between local authorities, councils and the companies deploying the fibre.

The UK is already on a high trajectory of growth in this area, particularly as alternative networks such as VXfiber, which take inspiration from the successful fibre models in Scandinavia and beyond, are increasing their investment in and deployment of full fibre. They are working directly with local authorities enabling them to kick start their own gigabit fibre initiatives. This, along with an open access environment and the ability to collaborate fibre at the ground level and service providers on the same platform will certainly allow the UK government to deliver its internet connectivity ambitions a lot faster.

So, if Boris Johnson or whoever is to be the UK’s next Prime Minister, they really need to do their homework and set realistic plans and timelines for the rollout – and ensure that this support and money is actually given. The industry is doing what it can, but we need to make sure we have enough time to deploy this properly, and that it is done correctly.”

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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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44 Responses
  1. Avatar New_Londoner

    @Mark
    Your comment “Naturally he fails to say how this would be funded or even possible” nailed it. Let’s wait for details on where the Labour is going to come from to deliver this in 6 years, then for details on where the capex will come from.

    You forgot to cover his subsequent pledge on a unicorn for every family.

  2. Avatar Bob2002

    This is positive, irrespective of whether it can be delivered in the timescale suggested. When what is fairly likely to be the next Prime Minister puts fibre roll-out front and centre other parties will be forced to follow suit – it becomes the new normal.

    • Avatar mike

      It won’t be put front and centre. It will quietly be forgotten about as Brexit will be the only issue during his hopefully short tenure.

    • Avatar Bob2002

      So you’d be happier if he’d never spoken about broadband roll-out at all and let it rot? And if you’re hoping for a short tenure who would you rather have, Corbyn? That’s lunacy.

    • Avatar mike

      He’s going to let it rot anyway. The whole country is going to rot. So yes I’d prefer he not speak about things he has not intention of delivering.

    • Avatar Timeless

      given what he has achieved in the past, this promise is nothing more than a means to an end, just like the Conservative manifesto as a whole, its all about getting elected and looking good.. while off topic, does anyone remember the Tory “No Top Down Reorganisation of The NHS” pledge?

      one of the first things they did was push for NHS reforms to push towards privatisation, my point being is Tories will say anything to get into No.10 and seeing as its not our choice (as we dont get a vote in Tory leader elections) the fact that his first promise was tax cuts to high earners the token gesture of fibre internet just sounds like a hollow promise because we all know Tories care more about their donors than they do the public.

  3. Avatar Barney

    Seems to be a change of heart from understanding of Fibre Services from the Tories.

    When I emailed my local (Tory) parish then Borough Councillor about FTTP/H provision, CfP or attracting rural broadband companies the response was the same – they did not understand what I was complaining about, and we have “fibre” in my village anyway…

  4. Avatar Phil

    Again even if it were possible to meet 2025, the metric used for coverage is “properties passed”. Connecting up every home (27 million), all of which require individual Openreach appointments to install an ONT, then having to sort out issues like blocked ducts from the distribution point to the property or road closures to get fibre across poles over busy roads, or delays whilst trees are cut or way-leaves are obtained, is a huge undertaking. Probably more like 2050 before everyone property has their copper phone line replaced with fibre and politicians will be asking questions like why “properties passed” was ever used as measure of success to moving people to fibre.

  5. Avatar Andrew

    So out of character for Boris to make a sweeping statement like this without fully understanding the implications. It’s not like he’s done something like this before…..

    Here’s an idea for all politicians. Try talking to the industry first. And another thing, if you really want to see progress try reforming a few things to help companies roll out decent broadband faster and cheaper across Blighty.

  6. Avatar Mark

    Unfortunately it reflects the abysmal understanding of technology by senior politicians of all parties. Remember a previous pledge of “broadband for all by 2015”? Then the government had to resort to subsidising satellite installations to get them out of the hole they had dug for themselves. This time round, there will be no hiding, even if it’s writ large on the side of a bus…

    • Originally it was 2Mbps for all by 2012 under Labour (at the time they hadn’t allowed themselves enough time to deliver this or complete the legislation side) and then 2015 was the revised timetable when the Con/LD coalition came to power in 2010. The rest is largely as you say.

  7. Avatar Salek

    If the target is 2033, then it would be probably be 2040 before its universally available, if we target 2025, then 2033 is an achievable target, nothing wrong with that, full steam ahead,

  8. Avatar Seppi

    Just file this under Boris Bike, Bus, Bridge etc.

  9. Avatar Matthew

    Think being slightly unfair this is the front runner to become the Prime Minister the man who would be incharge of the government who looks at this sort of thing. I never heard May saying anything like this maybe nothing will come of it but I would rather a PM looking at Fibre infrastructure and understanding that we are lacking in this aspect than a Prime Minister who thinks we have nearly achieved this.

    • Avatar Timeless

      the only problem l see is that he has been known to be a liar when it comes to promises, remember what it said on the sides of his buses? Boris is a rather clever and his clown facade is nothing more than misdirection, he tells the electorate what they want to hear, like more money for the NHS upon leaving the EU or in this case better internet, but since when has a Tory ever kept their promise? all he cares about is furthering his career and getting into no.10 he doesnt care one bit about anything else.

  10. Avatar GoodNews

    Let’s not be negative, let’s try and fail rather than waiting until 2033

  11. Avatar James Brown

    Does he say that the UK could’ve had full fibre in the mid 90’s? Only the actions of that Tory grand dame, Maggie Thatcher Fibre-snatcher prevented it.

  12. Avatar mike

    Let’s leave the EU and give £350m a week to BT instead!

    • Avatar Timeless

      what £350m? according to the side of their buses it was supposed to go to the NHS, not hours after the referendum the government or should l say Iain Duncan Smith was quoted in the news as saying “this wont happen, we havent got the money to spare”.

  13. Avatar Rahul

    New lie by Boris to try and secure his leadership contest and divert politicians and media on how he is going to deliver Brexit. He lied about the £350 million a week for the NHS bus after Brexit. The 2025 for Full Fibre is another one of those laughably irritating promises that isn’t going to happen.

    Even 2033 isn’t going to be achieved simply because of wayleave agreement issues and red tapes. I am waiting since 2009 just to get FTTC in urban City of London Bishopsgate EO Line. The Fibre Checker has been lying to me last 10 years that soon we will be upgraded to FTTC. This checker still remains the same.

    In August of 2015 I applied to be a Hyperoptic Champion and convinced all residents to register their interests and it was complete in less than 6 months. Since then it has been 4 years & I have struggled to convince management team to sign wayleave agreement, but it has not happened yet as apparently there are more important issues to deal with than Fibre. As we have an incompetent Technical Services Manager that doesn’t care about it at this stage and doesn’t even respond to emails and has ignored the Hyperoptic Representatives, in fact I doubt at what stage at all, maybe one day when he retires from his position.

    I view https://roadworks.org every few days and I have seen very little works across the entire London map of any Fibre/telephone construction works. The last time I’ve seen some fibre works were by City of London Telecommunications in Bank of England for some office buildings where I have witnessed it with my very own eyes and said ‘wow’!

    I’m afraid at this rate and the fact that the jump on UK FTTP coverage from 4% to 7% from last year is very slow. In the next 10 years if we multiply 3×10=30. We are going to achieve around 40% FTTP coverage, no where near 100% FTTP.

    Let’s hope by 2030+ I will be amongst the 40% FTTP bracket that will finally get FTTP/H since I’m not going to get FTTC!

    • Avatar Phil

      @Rahul

      “Even 2033 isn’t going to be achieved simply because of wayleave agreement issues and red tapes. I am waiting since 2009 just to get FTTC in urban City of London Bishopsgate EO Line. The Fibre Checker has been lying to me last 10 years that soon we will be upgraded to FTTC. This checker still remains the same.”

      Given the metric is “properties passed” and not properties connected means the Government of the time and Openreach will be self congratulating themselves on eventual deployment to the entire UK, let there will still be a low percentage connected, and like your case still no guarantees you are any closer to having the service. They will tick you off as property passed, job done on the stats.

    • Avatar CarlT

      London is teeming with telco roadworks, Rahul. From Virgin Media and Openreach as well as core network operators.

    • Avatar Rahul

      @Phil: Openreach and the Government will only be cheating themselves if they claim to have achieved their mission.

      Ultimately it is we the customers who sooner or later be able to find out whether the Fibre really has been deployed.

      For example in order for the UK to genuinely achieve 100% FTTP by 2033. There needs to be a deployment of 6-7% FTTP coverage per year!

      That means from now until 2033 there are 14 years. Multiply 14×7%=98% coverage. 98+current 7%=105%. This means every year for the next 14 years the UK must jump its FTTP coverage by at least 6-7% consistently for the target to be achieved.

      That means next year the UK needs to jump to 13-14% FTTP and the year after 20-21% and so on. At the moment this isn’t happening with a 3% jump the total coverage will only be 3×14=42% 42+7=49%. That means by 2033 at this rate UK FTTP coverage will be 49% no where near 100% FTTP.

      If it is by 6% per year coverage jump then it will be 6×14=84. 84+7=91%. That will be 91% FTTP coverage by 2033 if next year and the year after FTTP jumps by 6%.. Still not exactly 100% but very close.

      Now the problem is if this pace doesn’t accelerate and remains at 3% jump then this mission is not going to be achieved. Nor will it be achieved if the rate of coverage per year fluctuates.

      As we can see from this calculation even 2033 is a big ask, though doable. But 2025 is a complete fantasy. Because in 6 years FTTP must make an enormous leap 15×6=90%. 90+7=97%. That means for the next 6 years FTTP coverage must jump by 15% LOL absolute fantasy, of-course that ain’t going to happen…

      You see the maths? Anyone who makes this basic calculation will realise Boris is making a mockery out of our intelligence! He himself has not worked out the maths to recognise how ridiculous he’s making himself look.

      I’ve already gone through this and we have 3 leaseholders properties all of them are struggling with wayleave issues for Hyperoptic. Only 1 out of the 3 properties has FTTC here in London E1. As for Virgin Media again, wayleave is an issue for them as well. Virgin Medias coverage is almost non existent in the City of London.

  14. Avatar adslmax

    Where does he find the money from? Probably new fibre tax for everyones in this country from new chancellor?

    • Avatar CarlT

      You’re a huge net tax recipient so I wouldn’t worry yourself too much.

      There are ways to fund it, it’s just not possible.

    • Avatar Anthony

      Look at the Party Political Broadcasts by Jeremy Corbyn unrealistically promising the world to absolutely everyone. And he says at the end….How can we afford all of this?….We can afford it, we are a rich country.

    • Avatar dee.jay

      I’m more than happy to contribute to fibre tax if it helps everyone get full fibre.

  15. Avatar Juan

    “Let’s say goodbye to the UK’s manana approach to broadband “

    Funny he would use this slightly offensive way to express it when Spain is third in the FTTH European ranking (https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2019/03/uk-finally-joins-2019-ftth-ultrafast-broadband-country-ranking.html

    • Avatar spurple

      What is offensive about using the word “mañana”, which means “tomorrow” in this context?

      Am I missing something here?

    • Avatar Fred Standart

      I’m in Spain at the moment. On the island of Menorca. I have 300 Mbit/s *symmetric* to the villa in the coastal rural area where I’m staying. It’s insane. And the backhaul can support it too. Speedtest dot net hits >>150 Mbit/s to any UK server I’ve tried.
      My cousin has 500 Mbit/s (asymmetric I think) in Barcelona.

      In London (zone 3) I have 40/8 on a good day.

      I’m sure Brexit will fix all of our problems in the UK. Broadband included.
      SMH.
      Johnson and Farage belong in prison.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      Not surprised. Spain has a target to deliver 100% 30Mbps and a 50% take up of 100Mbps by 2020. Whilst we still flounder on piecemeal rural subsidy to >24Mbps and a proposed USO of only 10Mbps. The Spanish objective ensured they moved to better technologies and places like Menorca know the benefit for their tourism and industry.
      This is just more hot air from politicians published in newspaper articles that they know they cannot be held to account on.

  16. Avatar CarlT

    So where is the expertise coming from for this enterprise?

    Where’s the manpower coming from? His party is fixated on reducing immigration, ending freedom of movement with the EEA and his model to leave the EU will further devalue our currency and simultaneously increase the cost of living, so migrants see a lower salary when converted to their local currency and have less of it left at the end of the month.

    He is a slightly more intelligent posh Donald Trump. The major consistencies throughout his life have been how easily and regularly he lies and that he always, always places his own interests first.

  17. Avatar ian Cole

    I am one of the homes passed and getting increasingly frustrated with the whole debacle, openreach could of upgrade my broadband to fttp for a few hundred pounds as all I needed was a cbt (connectised block terminal) to splice off the fibre to my house

    • Avatar Fred

      Doesnt work like that

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguso

      Passed – as in ISP checkers say you can order it? That is what passed is referring to in terms of this article.

      If you are using passed to mean there is a fibre going doing your road to somewhere else then you won’t be appearing in the passed statistics

  18. Avatar The Ghost of Thatcher

    He should renege on the pledge due to the fact it’s anti-competitive to other parties.

  19. Avatar Anthony

    My God I so wish this was true.

    I appreciate 100% is not do-able given some houses are right in the wilderness miles from anywhere. But every city done by 2025 would be a godsend for this country.

  20. Avatar Terrence Morgan

    Another pack of lies from Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (AKA “The Oaf”) which he will instantly deny having said if he gets in to Number 10.

  21. Avatar Fred

    His got my vote

  22. Avatar sam

    No chance 2025 . The Fibre isn’t that good at present never mind full fibre . The openreach network is pants behind the times due to using old technology

    • Avatar dee.jay

      At least someone is actually showing that we *need* to accelerate the investment into full broadband…

  23. Avatar John

    In a very wealthy country where we’re excited about a probably empty promise from one of history’s great proven political liars, there are around 2,000 food banks operating because the government cannot guarantee that most basic of necessity, food, to its population. If Johnson has yet another fabulous sum of money up his sleeve to spend, then I know where it should go – the NHS, Social Care, Education, Public Transport are all more worthy causes….

  24. Avatar Jordan

    Given my current role in the industry I find half the battle comes from obstructive individuals who fail to see the need for FTTP. Should the government wish to achieve this target I would advise addressing the nation explaining that obstructing providers with wayleaves does not benefit anyone at all.
    Should we wish to accomplish this we all need to be on the same page!
    Also we have private providers out there who do not require the public’s tax money to install.

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