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Government to Water Down 2025 Full Fibre for All UK Target – Become Gigabit UPDATE

Saturday, September 14th, 2019 (7:19 am) - Score 5,137
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Several industry sources have indicated to ISPreview.co.uk that they now expect the Government to water down Boris Johnson’s (Prime Minister) pledge to cover the United Kingdom in “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband by 2025, which will instead be replaced by “gigabit” or “gigafast” terminology (i.e. delivery by more than just full fibre).

Privately the government appears to be acknowledging something that was obvious to most in this industry from the moment Boris Johnson first called the 2033 aspiration “laughably unambitious,” before adding that he could “unite our country” by delivering “full fibre for all … in five years at the outside”. Similarly expressed later as “fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household.”

We have already covered in detail why this was never going to be an even remotely realistic target (here), although we fully welcome the greater focus on full fibre that he brought to the table. Since then the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has had the perhaps unenviable task of meeting with ISPs in order to try and figure out how they can deliver on such a commitment.

Luckily DCMS has a lot of talented people working within its wings (e.g. the Local Full Fibre Networks / Building Digital UK teams) and as we understand it, following meetings with some major industry players (the usual suspects like Cityfibre, Openreach, Virgin Media and various other stakeholders), there has now been an acceptance of reality at the top that full fibre for all by 2025 is simply not viable.

In our summary of all this last month we concluded that Boris may have to perform somewhat of a political fudge by watering down his definition of “full fibre,“ such as by including other Gigabit (1Gbps+) speed capable technologies like Virgin Media’s hybrid fibre coax network. Virgin already covers a little over half of UK premises and will soon be capable of 1Gbps speeds via the DOCSIS 3.1 upgrade (here).

The adoption of “gigabit” instead of “full fibre” language could also be harnessed to cover an even wider range of technologies than Virgin’s HFC, such as some fixed wireless / 5G networks or potentially even G.fast (e.g. when fed from a nearby remote node on telegraph poles or very near [tens of metres] to homes by a cabinet). Over the past week we did try to get an official comment from DCMS but our attempts were met with silence.

As one industry source told us, “[the government] are not happy, they know fibre is the answer.” Another source couldn’t confirm what others had told us but did say, “we believe that there will need to be a shift … Consumers don’t care what connects them as long as it’s reliable, performs well and there’s enough bandwidth for future household needs.”

The above approach (add Virgin etc.) is more plausible but there still isn’t a magic fix for tackling the final 40-50% of premises in the space of just 5 years (mostly rural, slow to reach any VERY expensive). Boris will need to pull a pretty big rabbit from his hat and we’re keen to see what that looks like, although this is at least more realistic than the original target. On the other hand it raises the question of when we can now expect every home to get access to a full fibre service or if that aspect has now been totally abandoned too.

The signs of this shift in language may already be happening. The recent 2019 Spending Round, specifically its performance indicators section for full fibre, made reference to the “number of premises passed with gigabit-capable networks.” Yesterday a speech by Boris Johnson at Convention of the North in Rotherham similarly saw him say, “And so we in this new government are supporting gigabit broadband – which is a lot I understand – for every home by 2025, eight years earlier than previously promised … Gigabit broadband sprouting in every home.

The last example above is particularly clear since the Prime Minister is using almost exactly the same language as he did before, albeit with “gigabit” being in place of “full fibre.” Sorry Boris, we did notice.

UPDATE 17th September 2019

After waiting a long time for a response the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has finally responded to our hails for clarification.

A DCMS Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“This Government wants to deliver world-class, gigabit-capable digital infrastructure across the country and will announce further details on how we will achieve this as soon as possible.

We are investing over £650 million in full fibre broadband until the end of 2021 and are committed to creating the right opportunities for investment as we speed up the roll-out of this technology.”

Reading between the lines, there’s no mention of that 2025 full fibre for all pledge above (this change in language is of course specifically what we were asking DCMS about) and their primary message is now clearly focused upon delivering “gigabit-capable digital infrastructure across the country.”

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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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57 Responses
  1. Avatar JamesW

    I hope the ISP’s stated to the DCMS issues around Wayleaves.

  2. Avatar Alpha's Lover

    So another Bo Jo lie? Quelle surprise!

    • Avatar DontMakeMeLaugh

      People like you make me laugh, it could be a whole lot worse if we had a Labour or Lib (not Dem) government.

    • Avatar Stuart

      Corbyn would re-nationalise BT, and ban privately owned networks.

      ADSL for all. Equal society.

    • Avatar Gareth

      “Corbyn would re-nationalise BT”

      LOL, Yeah and the Trains, and the Water Companies. You are in cuckoo land if you believe that could ever happen, even if we could get the hundreds of BILLIONS it would cost. Corbyn has NO idea how economics work. The country would be bankrupt within 6 months.

      We already owe around 2 Trillion!!! Putting that muppet in charge of the finances would finish us.

    • Avatar Mel

      “You are in cuckoo land if you believe that could ever happen, even if we could get the hundreds of BILLIONS it would cost.”

      Would Corbyn’s government pay a fair price, and in actual money though, couldn’t he issue long term government bonds to ‘pay’ shareholders in place of the cash, forcing shareholders to sell the bonds at the market rate if they don’t want to hang on to them, which would probably collapse along with the economy given their policies.

    • Avatar John

      Wow, a criticism of that serial liar, Johnson, brings out the anti-Corbyn fanatics in force. Your man repeatedly promises the impossible. Time after time. Already the worst PM of my lifetime…

    • Avatar Gareth

      “Wow, a criticism of that serial liar, Johnson, brings out the anti-Corbyn fanatics in force. Your man repeatedly promises the impossible. Time after time. Already the worst PM of my lifetime…”

      And yet Corbyn STILL can’t get in power! That should tell you what a CRETIN he is. He doesn’t even want an election, even with Johnson as PM where he should win. The Labour Party have ZERO chance with this terrorist supporting anti-Semite at it’s helm.

    • Avatar John

      Gareth, mate, you’re in the wrong forum. Jog along and find a Labour group to troll. This is about the PM’s promise to deliver FTTP for all by 2025, which has quietly been rowed back. It’s not about Corbyn’s suitability….

    • Avatar John

      “And yet Corbyn STILL can’t get in power!” Gareth, mate, you’re in the wrong forum. Jog along and find a Labour group to troll somewhere else…

    • Avatar Gareth

      John, mate! I was responding to someone who said Corbyn would re-nationalise BT. I’m assuming you can read? Stop being a sensitive little flower. Jog on to the Labour Party Snowflakes Page…..

    • Avatar Timeless

      l wonder how many realise that Corbyn hasnt been a PM and has had to deal with significantly more smears than any other party leader, all of which have been debunked, the right wing fears him because they fear loosing their wealth and having to pay what they owe rather than make use of loopholes and anual tax cuts gifted to them by the Tories they donate to. but l digress.

      but lm not surprised given Johnsons history, he is a serial liar when it comes to pushing his agenda.

    • Avatar DontMakeMeLaugh

      @Timeless

      Absolutely rubbish

      The left wing want richer folk to fund everything, if you buy something from a shop everyone pays the same price so why should richer folk who work hard be penalised for being smart and earning more. If those that don’t want to work started contributing everyone would be better off.

  3. Avatar apolloa

    I have repeatedly stated what the obvious answer is to get full fibre to every doorstep in the country, scrap HS2 and spend its now projected 88 BILLION pounds cost on fibre, call me cynical but somehow I do not believe it will even cost around 7 times the entire annual NHS budget to put fibre to every doorstep, and it can easily be delivered before 2031!

    • Avatar ian

      Completely agree with scrapping it, such a waste of money.

      If i won’t use trains due to their insane pricing now, they’ve got no chance of me using them when they’ve finished that waste of money. Its still cheaper by a LONG way to fly from Newcastle to Bristol!

    • Avatar Archie

      Agreed. Especially with a lot remote working on the horizon it’s gonna be much more cost effective and better to have fibre rather than HS2.

    • Avatar Bish Bash

      Just a small clarification, the yearly NHS budget is little bit bigger than £88Bn / 7…!

  4. Avatar Ian

    Worst case scenario from all of this is that the government is at least discussing/pushing/possibly funding a roll out that should help speed up commercial deployments. Whilst the time scales may fudge along the way, its still better them not. Any help with wayleaves etc is welcome.

    As for how its delivered…i agree with the comment on consumers not really caring, so long as its PROVEN reliable i’m all for it. I’m not sold on 5G as i’ve tried 4G home broadband and its just not up to snuff where i am, but i am open minded.

  5. Avatar Shetnet

    As someone who is still languishing in the internet speed stone age, all this news about targets never being achievable amuses me.

    As I am stuck on a 1mb/s connect and will be for the far foreseeable future I know that any and all these promises of full fiber and the like are always hollow. Honestly at this point I would be happy with 5mb/s or the dizzy heights of 10mb/s but both are lofty goals considering the only ISP in our area has previously held a consolation with the residents here and basically told us they have no intentions to upgrade our service because it’s simply too far from “civilization”.

    In this day and age it is simply crippling to live in certain places and as such people in this area specifically are beginning to leave the area simply because services for us are barely there and disappearing all the time.

    • Avatar Sally

      Have you never heard of Satellite Broadband? It’s been about since the 80s you know.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      Sally, satellite broadband is only suitable for some purposes – it should be OK for streaming video (bandwidth allowance allowing) and e-mail, but it is unusable for most home-working uses such as connecting to remote servers over a VPN or videoconferencing due to the very high latency.

  6. Avatar Me for PM

    I think it better to have the target of full-fibre and take longer than to fudge a solution which will ultimately need upgrading later.

    We wasted money on Superfast technology when much of the world was starting to install full – fibre. Yes we got an quick win but now we have slower progress.

    It will cost but the time old adage of quality, time, cost, pick any two rings true here.

    Go back to the 2033 target for full fibre. Force wayleaves through and we will get there with the best quality full fibre network.

    Let’s think about future proofing the country rather than simply looking to solve a short term broadband issue.

    • Avatar Philip Cooper

      Totally agree with this, don`t go for a quick (ish ) fudge to keep an unrealistic promise ,do it properly with FTTP , if it takes longer that`s ok if it gets done correctly.

    • Avatar apolloa

      Sadly I’ve become accustomed to our politicians never thinking about the future, and only thinking about their term in parliament and political point scoring.
      I agree with you, like my suggestion of scraping HS2 the government does indeed have several options open to put a fibre connection to every doorstep in the country, they have no vision or passion to do so though.

  7. Avatar CJ

    In towns and cities where VM has good but not total coverage, it would be quicker and cheaper to get VM to fill the gaps than for another provider to overbuild the entire area with full fibre. The problem is how to incentivise VM to complete those local networks that weren’t finished when the original cable co’s ran out of money in the late 90’s.

    Hopefully the answer is more than just assuming that gaps in urban ultrafast coverage will eventually get filled by ‘gigabit capable’ 5G.

    • Avatar Sally

      I just moved to an area where 1GB is available via BT and left VM 500 – I sure hope VM do start 1GB soon in case I ever have to move back! I feel a bit spoilt now!

  8. Avatar Meadmodj

    What else was expected. They really couldn’t ignore VMs hybrid network however short a life it will have and politicians only like targets others deliver despite their interference.

    We should not get hung up on a particular technology, technology continues to evolve for functionality/cost and new ones will appear. There is no reason why MDUs, industrial estates and even small housing or office clusters etc can’t be fed via G.Fast/Ethernet/Wireless etc for the last leg. As long as it provides the required effective speed and resilience.

    What is important is that semi urban and rural equals distance. Only fibre can solve this so we need to ensure we can get that fibre out there as quickly as possible. I personally don’t care if its whether its HFC, FTTH, FTTP, FTTB, FTTK etc. Ideally it should all be FTTH but if you can do a MDU in a day using G.Fast/FTTB and move onto the next street of FTTH then surely thats the sort of thing we should do from a timescale and resource perspective.

    • Avatar Matthew

      I’m honestly not sure even does have that short a life it has an obvious path upgrade Full Duplex DCOSIS at that point it will be able offer symmetric speeds i’m sure they would rather invest the money in that when it is needed then in letting there assets plummet.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      @Meadmodj

      I’d agree with @Matthew that VM can if they want to life extend the assets to full duplex by pushing fibre out to the edges of the daisy chained cabs.

      If they can life extend the coax from cab to home, which is the expensive bit to replace, to carry 1Gb or 10Gb (as the latest standards allow) then they can carry on sweating those assets for a long time to come.

      This is not the same as OR problem that twisted pair on has very limited bandwidth over distance. The coax, if it is in good shape, can easily do 1G symmetrical and more.

      This makes it a pretty good investment case as they are going to start losing market share to Alt Nets because of the upstream limits.

      As soon as OR start to increase their FTTP upstream, or Alt Nets in some areas starting taking customers, then expect VM to react like a scalded cat – and see some rapid upgrade works on the network. So it does have a good service life.

      It is a valid commercial decision to keep an asset up to scratch.

    • Avatar Matthew

      I think even if Liberty Global didn’t want to spend the money someone would buy the assets from them instead of letting them go to waste Virgin covers roughly 60% of country and the good competition part as well for an investment cost you could easily compete with the FTTP providers but still provide Cable TV as well. Vodafone are doing that exact same thing in Germany now with there buyout of Liberty Germany Cable assets. But I think Liberty Global are showing there are willing put investment into UK now.

    • Avatar Meadmodj

      My comment regarding HFC life was meant to be long term (e.g 2028). If they can exploit it then all good. But some of the old Telewest installation round here is showing its age and once there is a Fibre alternative they will be under pressure.

    • Avatar Matthew

      To push Full Duplex they would need to redo a lot of that part of the network anyway so i don’t see it being an issue. It would basically need to become like a FTTdp network but not exactly

  9. Avatar FullFibre

    Dispite my nick, I’m all for alternative technoloigies, as long as they are symetrical.

    If their not symetrical then your more than halving the potential. So what’s the point.

    Full Fibre should be the priority, just set a realistic timescale to implement.

    I agree with others as well HS2 is a waist of money and time. How many of those commuters would rather work from home and have more time with families than sat on a train. Symetrical high speed internet makes that possible.

    There are many many more use cases that exist right now and have yet to be invented but they require high speed symetrical access.

    Make one difficult journey with fibre and it makes that same journey unnecessary for everyone else for all of time. Rely on asymetric solutions and around the next corner your just back in the same possition.

    • Avatar Fastman

      I agree with others as well HS2 is a waist of money and time. How many of those commuters would rather work from home and have more time with families than sat on a train. Symetrical high speed internet makes that possible.

      that why do don’t understand what HS2 is actually about

  10. Avatar Ray Woodward

    Well! emy surprise ….

  11. Avatar FibreBubble

    Think the serial liar has now moved on from fantasy fibre to a unicorn bridge to Ireland.

  12. Avatar SimonM

    And… will Gigabit be an “up to”, or a “minimum speed”?

    And what about upload?

  13. Avatar Mike

    I know everyone wants FTTP everywhere but it’s just not realistic, if similar speeds can be acheieved with something else then it should be considered.

    • Avatar dragoneast

      shock, horror; “everyone” doesn’t read and comment on ISPReview! Only the ones that matter, obviously.

  14. Avatar anon

    So, the British government failing on another target?

    Imagine my shock…

  15. Avatar Terrence Morgan

    So it was another pack of lies from Boris! Is anyone surprised anymore?

  16. Avatar Marty

    It wouldn’t been so ambitious if they started this a decade ago instead of superfast FTTC. By now the majority of the country would have full fibre on ultrafast connections under the BDUK programme. Unfortunately back then as of now politicians still don’t have a clue about terminologies within the teleco industry. Most probably don’t understand how it works before grand pledges are made.

    • Avatar CarlT

      How much money do you think the BDUK programme had availalble, Marty?

      It wasn’t close to enough to deliver 100% FTTP and even if it had been virtually unlimited the same issues apply as would’ve prevented FTTP to 100% by 2025.

  17. Avatar chris conder

    Indeed Marty, they blew it, but the current BDUK crew have learned a lot from the previous mistakes, maybe no more funding will be wasted on obsolete tech. Maybe HS2 will be scrapped too. Or maybe this superfarce will rock on. Good luck to all altnets, providing competition and maybe we’ll win the fibre to make our nation truly digital.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      What funding would have been required for full FTTP and how long to install?

    • Avatar CarlT

      How’s that working out for Gigaclear in CDS?

      This project relies on the biggest players doing most of the work I’m afraid. Openreach, Virgin Media/Liberty Global, CityFibre through their agreement with Vodafone.

      I can’t feel quite the same nostalgia or sense of wishing the plucky upstart so well when it’s a series of multi-billion pound multinational companies or those backed by them, however isn’t the free market great sometimes?

    • Avatar GNewton

      “What funding would have been required for full FTTP and how long to install?”

      You have answered your own question many times over in the past. Do you have any positive or constructive suggestions on how to deploy fibre (other than having it all funded by the government)?

    • Avatar Ay

      @CarIT, well said. Thankfully Virgin are upgrading their own network by 2021, BT are doing their own thing & Liberty Global/Sky(Comcast) will hopefully be teaming up & working on another network to further expand.

  18. Avatar Herve Shango

    Why are folks talking about politics on ISPreview, ike come on now, we get enough of that trash on bbc and the MSM.

    • Avatar Herve Shango

      like*

    • Avatar CarlT

      This is a political story sadly. A politician made a nonsense political statement relating to broadband so there had to be some crossover.

      Fortunately doesn’t happen that often in the grand scheme.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      Hmme

      But on a more positive note FTTP provision has reached top billing and is now integrated into government thinking.

      If what this achieves are streamlined wayleaves, fibre rates holidays and general breaking down of barriers to deployment plus a little money to lubricate the non commercial roll out then generally a good thing.

      TBH all that needs doing is to extend the voucher schemes slightly and band the value of the voucher on remoteness.

    • Avatar AnotherTim

      @A_Builder, I’d agree but “remoteness” could be hard to define. I only have ADSL2+ available, but I have Fibre running within 20 yards of my house, I’m a mile from an FTTC enabled exchange, 4 miles from 2 largish towns both with FTTC and some FTTP, yet the nearest aggregation node is 11 miles away. BT Business refused to quote for a leased line because of the obvious excessive cost. I don’t consider myself as remote – would a voucher system?

    • Politics and broadband do cross over a lot these days, which as others have said is actually a positive. Better than silence on the same subject, like we had a lot before 2007. ISPreview has of course always tried to cover the different broadband related commitments, strategies or plans from all of the parties. We also pick them apart when something smells fishy or lacks detail (irrespective of which party it comes from).

    • Avatar Brian

      I’ve been described as very remote. I can see the telephone exchange from the front door, but its 4km as the line runs. The cabinet is located 200m from the exchange, so too far way, and infill cabinet is located 3km from us, so too far away. The exchange was only upgraded to ADSL2+ earlier this year, which gave about 200Kbps increase in download and about 100Kbps upload improvement.

    • Avatar A_Builder

      “’m a mile from an FTTC enabled exchange, 4 miles from 2 largish towns both with FTTC and some FTTP, yet the nearest aggregation node is 11 miles away”

      I would say in OR’s definition very remote as the nearest agg node is 11km away. But there is a big but. I don’t accept the way they think about the network topography.

      As I have posted before this is a bit of groupthink nonsense by OR as the fibre clearly does terminate in the FTTC DSLAM and the opposition to using the ends of the fibre there to deliver FTTP is pure doctrine winning over pragmatism. You couple perfectly well passively split the fibre there with a pod on the side of the DSLAM.

      So I would personally oppose using the ‘very distant’ definition here as OR were subsidised to build out FTTC and Liv Gafield did promise that the FTTC fibre could be dual use for FTTP backbone. It is up to OR to use its assets properly not for others to subsidise a narrow non pragmatic view of network engineering.

      A lot of that stems from the as-expensive-as-we-can-plausibly-make-FTTP-so-the-begging-bowl-looks-plausible. This lead to a network design that was

      a) all buried

      b) clean sheet of paper

      The trouble is that a lot of OR are still welded to the fundamental notion that this is “better”

      Now there are sensible arguments why you would not want to replicate bizarre old cable routes with fibre. But in the majority of cases having a wiggly duct/pole line makes close to zero difference to the fibre deployment and reduces the civils bill massively.

      It isn’t like fibre length affect throughput or anything.

      Most of the time the use-what-you-have argument wins.

  19. Avatar the unknown twch

    We wouldn’t be in this situation if a certain UK PM – decided that market forces should dictate the telecoms infrastructure. Thus with one swoop as it was classed as being anticompetitive it stopping BT / GPO from laying fibre optic cables to properties, within the UK (with the exception of hull as that was in the hands of Kingston telecoms)

    Should you trust any member of parliament with infrastructure, I think not.

    https://www.techradar.com/uk/news/world-of-tech/how-the-uk-lost-the-broadband-race-in-1990-1224784

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