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Autumn National Infrastructure Strategy to Boost UK Full Fibre Funding

Saturday, August 10th, 2019 (7:22 am) - Score 2,714

The Government’s seemingly unachievable new goal of blanketing the UK in Gigabit capable “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband connectivity by the end of 2025 is expected to get a boost in the autumn, which is thanks to the long-awaited publication of its National Infrastructure Strategy (NIS) that is widely said to include a major funding boost.

Apparently billions more in funding will be committed to the new NIS in order to support a “step change in infrastructure investment” right across the United Kingdom, which will see fresh funding for areas like transport (roads, rail etc.) and broadband in order to help meet Prime Minister Boris Johnson‘s ambition.

Funding is of course one of the key components required to achieve the new 2025 target. Last year’s Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) report said that “additional funding” of around £3bn to £5bn would be needed to support commercial investment in the final c.10% of areas alone but that was for the original 2033 target. Radical change is needed to stand any chance of 2025 and that will be even more expensive.

As usual we’ll have to wait to get all these details until the autumn. The Government clearly intends to use this in order to try and cushion what seems increasingly likely to be a no-deal outcome to Brexit.

Sajid Javid MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer, said:

“To maximise our growth potential as we leave the EU, I’m announcing today that I’ll publish a National Infrastructure Strategy in the Autumn. I will set out our plans for a step change in infrastructure investment right across the country. From the latest technology to the fastest trains, so that every corner of our great nation can thrive.”

The NIS is largely expected to be based on previous assessments made by the National Infrastructure Commission (here and here), which sadly doesn’t tell us much because so far the NIC has broadly supported the findings of the previous administration’s FTIR report and that was based around the old 2033 target. The NIC has not yet updated their proposals for achieving nationwide full fibre by 2025, which would make for a very interesting read.

Check out our article for more detail on some of the key challenges that Boris’s full fibre target is likely to face (here). One of the most important points to take away from that is the issue of how simply throwing a big sack of extra funding on to the table, at a time when competitive private investment is already doing much of the key work, can sometimes be counter-productive (market distortion) unless carefully balanced.

On the other hand you don’t get to a radical target like 2025 by being careful.

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26 Responses
  1. Avatar Marty

    On the thinkbroadband website a speclitive figure of 11,816 premises per week would be needed to get near 100% figure by 2026. I wonder how many premise per week passed it would take for the government to reach that 2025 goal?

    • Avatar Marty

      Or finish ahead of schedule

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Not sure why you say its speculation, unless there is a few million FTTP premises missing it is going to need a roll-out at that speed daily to hit a 31st March 2026 deadline.

      To learn how many premises per week, you just need to multiple by 7

  2. Avatar rick

    My town has roughly 5000 properties (residential and business) – hilly semi rural and spread out – a real mix and challenging to fibre up – my uneducated guess is months rather than weeks to complete

  3. Avatar NE555

    Another way of looking at it: if 10m properties are in towns of 5000 properties each, that’s 2000 towns. If each takes 6 months (highly optimistic), then to complete in 5 years you’d need to be building 200 towns in parallel. That’s a huge volume of planners, engineers, and equipment.

    The other problem is the pent-up demand. Getting these 10 million properties *passed* by fibre is one thing. But there’s no point unless a significant proportion of those users decide to take up an active fibre connection.

    Even with only a 20% take-up rate, that’s 2 million properties which will need individual engineer visits to drill holes in the wall and install ONTs. Assuming that’s also spread evenly over 5 years as the network lights up, that’s still an average of 8000 activation visits per week. And that assumes you keep the copper network for the remaining 80% of properties.

  4. Avatar New_Londoner

    The issue here is that our politicians don’t do detail, nor are they likely to have even a basic understanding of the practicalities of delivering FTTP to a single premise let alone the whole country.

    It’s highly unlikely that nationwide coverage can be delivered by 2025 (or even end March 2026). You’d probably have to divert all the civil engineering capacity in the country, abandoning many other critical projects (schools, hospitals, roads, railways, homes etc). Even then I suspect the timescales would not be met.

    By the way, this isn’t negativity or pessimism, it’s simple maths and realism.

    • Avatar Rahul

      That’s exactly the problem with Boris Johnson. While he may be informed of the UK currently sitting at 7% FTTP and Spain, Portugal having over 80% FTTP coverage. He doesn’t mention how he is going to do it.

      The calculation doesn’t work because of the low increase in FTTP per year of 3% that needs accelerating to 15% to achieve in 6 years time. At this rate UK will achieve only 25% FTTP coverage in 5-6 years time as 3% multiplied by 6 years=18 and 18%+7%=25%.

      These politicians also don’t mention how they will address wayleave agreement issues. As I’ve mentioned over the last 4 years not being able to get permission just for my building alone for Hyperoptic and hundreds of other buildings across all urban areas. It may take for the government another 5 years just to find a way to address the issue of being able to install Fibre cables into private lands/properties.

      Then there will also be the question of economical viability of installing Fibre into individual houses in rural areas. In urban areas residential buildings may be economically cheaper to upgrade but has issues with installation permission. While in rural areas wayleave consent from private landlords of individual houses may be easier to gain access but is more expensive to upgrade.

      In Europe most countries started FTTP from around 2006 directly. While Openreach started with FTTC instead of FTTP. UK trying to compete with other European countries in achieving 100% FTTP in 5-6 years time is like a new weight lifter trying to achieve the same muscular ripped bodybuilding physique in 6 months time that takes 5 years. That’s what Boris wants but it is not realistic. He needs to set realistic goals, not targets, but obviously he doesn’t want to do that because he thinks that will make him less popular.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Which calculation does not work?

    • Avatar Rahul

      Last year the UK had 4% FTTP. The jump has been only 3% up to 7% this year, which is very slow.
      At this rate 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.

      The acceleration of FTTP/H needs to be at 15% each year for 2025 to be achieved and it has to happen now! That means 15×6 years=90. 90+ current 7%= 97%. It simply won’t happen and by the time it accelerates it will be too late.

      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. Now that is a little bit more realistic, but still quite a big ask.

      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. And by 2025 it will actually be 3×6=18%+7%=25%. UK FTTP will still be less than 30% coverage.

      We need to see massive work for this to happen at a hugely big scale. When I look around roadworks.org there is some Fibre installation works around the entire London area but it is a very tiny fraction. The moment when we start to physically see the engineers installing Fibre cables with our very own eyes in the streets that will be the time when we will be convinced that there is really serious work being undertaken. I have only seen some Fibre installation once near Bank of England for an office building in February by City of London Telecommunications (COLT) and that’s about it. The lack of visible work is a reflection of the low current rate of progress and that’s no coincidence.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Aha clearer now – you are using the out of date figures. UK is definitely not still at 7% FTTP coverage.

      NOTE: Even with the acceleration that has happened in 2019 so far the target of 100% still needs some significant changes in roll-out rates.

      Something I believe Mark has covered and I’ve covered too

    • Avatar Rahul

      Sure it is over 7% now, since the last figures in March, I believe. But the pace needs accelerating. If it was 10% now then I would’ve said hooray! But we know the rate of progress isn’t too fast. 10% is probably going to happen next year and that wouldn’t be fast enough.

      Hopefully some positive changes will happen by next year. If wayleave barriers can be addressed then I believe that will help boost the roll-out to more private owned buildings to a greater percentage. Currently this is one of the biggest barriers outside cost. Even if the country had billions and billions of pounds to spend, without addressing those installation permissions for Fibre the progress will be slow as a snail.

      Red tape is a barrier that is less of an issue in most Eastern European countries. For example my flat in Bulgaria has full fibre since 2012 and none of the residents have really registered their interest and it is a much smaller block than mine here in Central London. But permission was never an issue for Fibre there, none of the residents requested permission but they got it easily with zero fuss.

      I guess Openreach knew FTTP wayleave was always going to be a problem years ago, hence why they went with FTTC in the first place since FTTC is cheaper and is not dependent on installation permissions. Now the real problem has come to haunt Openreach and the government never took FTTP seriously 10 years ago to address this concern, if it had happened the story would’ve been very different now.

    • Avatar Andrew Ferguson

      Wayleaves while a problem are not the reason the UK is down at 8.66% full fibre coverage https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/

      For some it is an issue, but its a small percentage affected in the pool of 28 million premises without full fibre, once you get out of the unique areas such as central London.

      Rising by 0.4 to 0.5 percentage points each month, so should be 10% before Christmas 2019.

  5. Avatar The Magician

    The amusing thing is, if we do start digging up all the roads and pavements (there is no way this can all be done with PIA) and get this finished in 2025, you can bet your life that the day after it is all finished some other utility will still be looking to dig up the same roads and pavements.

    The disruption would be immense on a project this size. Is it better to try and get it done quickly or spread it out to minimise impact?

    • Avatar GNewton

      “The disruption would be immense on a project this size”

      No, it won’t. For any given location, the roadwork disruption would only amount to a few days, then they would move on. Happens all the time with utilities.

  6. Avatar Mark

    Just do it “inside out”. Start with areas that are sub-USO (which will need a realistic cut-off for the extreme areas where fibre really does not make sense – after all, many of these locations don’t even have mains water or electricity). Next, the outlying non-superfast FTTC areas, followed by the rest of FTTC, and finally the large urban areas that already have non-FTTP ultrafast, such as Virgin Media or G-fast).

    Or is that far too practical for sound-bite politicians?

    • Avatar CJ

      I wouldn’t agree that proposal is practical.

      Fibre rollout is not being funded 100% by taxpayers. Private capital will start with areas that provide the best return on investment. For Openreach, the best ROI is retaining customers who have a choice of networks, not upgrading customers who have nowhere else to go.

      In many cases, running fibre to properties furthest from their cabinet inevitably means passing properties that are closer to the cabinet along the way.

      Just as important, from a political perspective there needs to be rapid progress.

      An outside-in rollout starting in the slowest areas might sound attractive but it’s not going to happen, just as it didn’t for for gas and electricity.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      I agree that the outside-in approach is necessary to reach a target of (more or less) 100% coverage. Without that approach there will 1-2% that will never ever get FTTP (just as we haven’t got gas, or mains drainage etc.). That may be acceptable, but it doesn’t meet the stated political target of 100%. I also agree it isn’t the cheapest way.
      Personally I’d like to see a target of 100% superfast broadband (whether FTTP, fixed-wireless, or 4G) that is achievable by 2025, and that could be done outside-in without distorting markets more than necessary.

    • Avatar 125us

      How will investors make any kind of return? If you start with the most expensive to reach customers you will go bust before you get anywhere near towns or villages. A useful network investment heuristic is that the last 10% of a ubiquitous network costs the same as the total of the first 90.

      You’ll be spending hundreds of millions to achieve a revenue in the single millions. I’d like to hear that conversation with the bank manager.

  7. Avatar A_Builder

    Or more positively more FFTP is better right?

    And funding for the final slow 5%+ is also welcome as this does need to be rolling rather than left for the end.

    I do see harnessing VM’s network, fully upgraded to 3.1 symmetric with all the powered cabs directly connected to fibre backhaul, as part of the 1G solution with proper FTTP backfill in the gaps too.

    If you add VM + OR + Alt Net (committed and funded not FTTPr) then the gap looks less silly. OK still needs a lot of imagination seeing it done by 2026.

    Trouble is to make that work then there have to be no overbuild and therefore full network sharing agreements in place and that would need VM to play ball or OFCOM to mandate.

  8. Avatar Paul Green

    Christ, an MP states that he is keen to get FTTP available to all, and all anyone can do is complain.

    Gotta love the UK.

    • Avatar New_Londoner

      The issue is that Boris has indicated there will be 100% availability of FTTP by 2025. If he’d simply indicated support for further deployment then fair enough, stating that the job will be done by 2025 stretches credibility.

    • Avatar Boris the clown

      Paul is going to flip his lid when he finds out about the bus. Thoughts and Prayers

    • Avatar A_Builder

      As @MJ has said a few times this is highly likely to be watered down to include VM HFC and if VM do upgrade to direct fibre to all of the cabs then this is a decent offering.

      Upgrading all those cabs is a big project but it could be done in that sort of timescale.

      I don’t think you can equate HFC to FTTP but for most domestic uses there will be little appreciable difference. For business use HFC doesn’t cut it as it is no substitute for pure glass all the way.

  9. Avatar James W

    The main problem is the wayleave laws.

    Having hyperoptic wanting to install for ages now. But due to wayleaves needing to be signed has been pushed back.

    The freeholder of the estate I live on is willing to sign the wayleave (at a cost). But the property manager or the resident management company is being a pain.

    No solicitor can give me a clear yes or no to whether the RMC has the right to refuse the wayleave signed by the freeholder.

  10. Avatar Rahul

    I’ve got the same problem, James.
    I’m a registered Hyperoptic Champion of my building here near City of London. We don’t have FTTC yet as we are an EO Line.

    Wayleave has been a pain for me as well last 4 years since getting the 30 odd people of my building to register their interest out of the 82 flats. The 2 buildings are under a management that does not want to give permission to Hyperoptic for installation and I am a leaseholder. While other buildings by Barrett Homes and City of London Corporation have Hyperoptic and some of them have Openreach FTTP overbuild!

    I’ve never thought about going this extreme to speak to a solicitor, because I personally don’t think it is going to work as there is no current law to prosecute a property manager for denying permission. Of-course a new law needs to be legislated for that to happen. I don’t know if Universal Service Obligation from next year will help but then again that’s for people who receive less than 10 Mbps. I have at least 12-14 Mbps which may not help the case.

    Currently my building is undergoing replacement of cladding panels with new A1 Fire proof cladding. The cladding from my building has been removed and will now have new panels installed from mid October. This is following the tragic Grenfell Tower Fire 2 years ago.

    I’m waiting first to see if after a replacement of the new cladding whether the management will be more co-operative to then make an agreement for Fibre Optic. And if that doesn’t work, I might have to try and involve the residents by sending letters to all 82 flats. This may take some great deal of printing, but I’m well prepared to waste my laser ink cartridge if it can help persuade the property managers to make something happen. Only pressure will do it. If you have monthly leaseholders meetings, make sure you attend those as well and persistently give pressure to the managers. In this day and age, without pressure rarely things work. You need to have some really considerate people who would listen from once and take care of the problems, unfortunately that will not be the case with all property managers across all private estate buildings. I had the same problem with one of my communal aerial TV Hotbird system signal gone for 10 months for almost all TV channels just over a year ago, it took me 6-7 times to visit their office and numerous emails for the manager to finally call an engineer to fix it that’s how inconsiderate they really are.

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