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BDUK – Possible Build Scenario for UK Full Fibre Broadband Rollout

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019 (8:21 am) - Score 3,970

The Government’s (DCMS) Building Digital UK team recently proposed an interesting build scenario for the future £5bn – state aid funded – project to roll-out gigabit-capable “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband ISP networks, which as predicted suggests that the build phase probably won’t begin until late 2021.

Firstly, let’s recap where we’re at today, since the goalposts have been shifting more times than a border in Syria. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has committed to invest £5bn of public money to help deploy “gigabit-capable” (1Gbps) broadband services – via full fibre, hybrid fibre coax and or fixed wireless (5G etc.) – to reach every home in the UK by the end of 2025; focusing on the final 20% of hardest to reach premises (mostly rural).

The move to adopt “gigabit” instead of “full fibre” terminology is a sensible one in so far as it makes the 2025 date more plausible (i.e. not completely bonkers, like it was before). The main reason for that is because existing networks, such as Virgin Media’s cable platform, can now be included and this is akin to saying that, by around 2021, some c.60%+ of UK premises (mostly in urban areas) can be marked as done via commercial networks.

Despite the change in terminology we’re still on record as saying that 2025 would be an incredibly difficult target to hit, which is partly because it tends to take a long time before any new policy idea gets turned into a physical build (the original Superfast Broadband Programme took 2-3 years before full build began in 2012/13). A recent presentation from the BDUK team has helped to highlight this point.

BDUK’s Possible Build Scenario

The Head of Commercial, Design & Strategy at BDUK, Matt Agar, recently talked about policy development in a presentation to INCA‘s annual conference. As part of that he proposed a possible build scenario based on the old 2033 target for universal full fibre coverage under the 2018 Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which reflected a reduced outside-in (rural areas first) market intervention for the final 10% (i.e. c.2 million UK premises).

The use of a presentation based around the old 2033 target is partly to do with the fact that the goalposts keep shifting (first 2033, then 2025, then gigabit-capable instead of full fibre etc.). As such BDUK has only just started on a major programme to understand how they’ll need to adapt to Boris’s new 2025 target. All of that effort could of course be cast into doubt again if another General Election is called this week.

Nevertheless the procurement, consultation and policy design process is likely to require the same amount of time no matter what the intended completion date and that’s where BDUK’s scenario can help to provide some useful context.


In the proposed scenario BDUK appears to envisage a procurement strategy being finalised by January 2020, which would be followed by early market engagements and other work, until February 2021 when the procurement process itself would begin.

Assuming everything kept to plan then the first contracts could in theory be awarded by May 2021, with the build commencing from around November 2021. At this point we’re a little over 2 years down the road from today and it’s all roughly in keeping with what we’d expect to see (you can’t rush it, there are complicated issues of competition to balance, legislation to pass, teams to staff and consultations to conduct).

Under this scenario BDUK suggested that the delivery, based on a standard S curve (like below), would need to ramp-up to a maximum rate of 170k premises/quarter (13k/week) and contracts should aim to complete by January 2032 (this is just for the BDUK projects rather than the cumulative market total).


As ever the shifting goalposts, which have moved the completion date much nearer than before, may have the perhaps ironic impact of meaning that it could take longer than November 2021 before we see the first builds begin (i.e. due to the need to develop yet another new plan / strategy).

The BDUK team appear to be acutely aware of this and so, in lieu of a new State Aid decision and procurement approach in 2021, are also examining ways to help ramp-up the build beforehand (i.e. it might be possible to squeeze more full fibre out of existing contracts, Local Full Fibre Networks schemes, Vouchers and the Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme).

The last thing the new programme wants to see is a rollout that ramps down before it ramps-up again. Keeping that momentum going, particularly on rural delivery, will be vital if the 2025 target is to stand any chance of being achieved (otherwise operators will shift resources to their urban builds). Both BDUK and DCMS both recognise that it is a very challenging target.

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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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22 Responses
  1. A_Builder says:

    Well at least there is a serious conversation about doing the right thing with a serious pot of cash attached to get people interested.

    It is also really good to see the reality that momentum must be grown. Perhaps just top up the voucher pot(s) for now?

    FTTP is now so far up the agenda that I don’t see cancelling this as viable unless you want to loose a lot of rural & EO votes that is.

  2. NGA for all says:

    The immediate alternative is to use existing funds ‘clawback, capital outstanding, underspends, and contract for a final 400k in English counties. NI has £165m to tackle 93k properties in NI. Scotland have R100, the Welsh have the funds to complete if they can nudge BT. According to BDUK 350k are contracted and outstanding from existing budgets.

    It will still take to 2025 anyway. This £5bn was not in the autumn statement for a reason.

    DCMS and perhaps BT owe EFRA some answers on how existing monies can be used.

    The under-reporting on the existing activity needs explaining. The existing work should be kept rolling to completion.

    1. CarlT says:

      Have you scripted this yet, Mike, are you copy/pasting it or are you still typing it all manually?

    2. NGA for all says:

      CarlT ..which bit is untrue? Why should folk be denied or have to wait indefinitely for upgrades where the public funds are already available to do the work.

      Hunstlett is well and truly sorted, why should others be denied?

    3. Gadget says:

      Just fyi – but R100 may not fix all sub 30Mbps lines in Scotland https://www.gov.scot/publications/reaching-100-superfast-broadband/ – see “Our Procurement” section.
      “The procurement will not focus on urban city centre premises but target investment where it is needed most – in rural Scotland. We expect commercial suppliers to fill gaps in urban areas and are encouraged by the emerging plans from BT, Virgin Media, CityFibre and Vodafone, which suggests that this is beginning to happen.”

    4. NGA for all says:

      Gadget, are you saying the budgets are inadequate? Even with budgets of £4,000 on average per property BT Group will say it is not enough.

      The £5bn will provide a good reason to hold back. It needs lancing.

    5. Gadget says:

      @NGA – I’m saying that the Scottish Government website is saying that not all sub30Mbps locations have been included in their tender and there are some that they hope will be covered by commercial deployment.

    6. CarlT says:

      Strange how VDSL = ‘well and truly sorted’ while only FTTP, on the taxpayer’s dime, will do in rural areas.

  3. Steve C says:

    “Firstly, let’s recap where we’re at today, since the goalposts have been shifting more times than a border in Syria.”

    Made me spit my coffee over the desk. Congratulations on winning Tuesday!

  4. Graham Long says:

    Whatever happens this programme needs to be kept out of the hands of Connecting Devon & Somerset and run directly by BDUK nationally. CDS have demonstrated their incompetence to run such publicly funded programmes having failed three times to deliver their Phase 2 rural superfast programme despite being alloctaed funding 7 years ago.

    1. NGA for all says:

      Would a combined SW final procurement work?

    2. Mark Jackson says:

      Considering that devolved governments in Wales, Scotland and N.Ireland have struggled to put together timely contracts, then I strongly suspect BDUK will continue to evolve an approach that sees public funding funnelled toward local authorities. Granted CDS has had some major problems but overall local authorities across the UK seem to have been faster to convert funding into delivery.

    3. Graham Long says:

      The Rural Gigabit Connectivity Programme, updated this month (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rgc-programme-key-information) suggests BDUK are stil locked in to finding local authorities to act as procurement bodies based on them offering “local hubs” to centre their roll out around. Albeit RGC was based on a 2033 completion date, demanding a 2025 completion date will almost certainly cause BDUK to stick with procurement bodies they already work with and that means CDS who have lost all credibility with Devon & Somerset rural taxpayers, most of whom are no closer to getting fast broadband today than they were in 2012.

    4. Graham Long says:

      Mark, Describing CDS as having some “major problems” is an understatement having now failed three times to complete their Phase 2 procurements (and wasted 7 years and untold expense in the process). To make a mistake once is a learning experience, to make the same mistake a second time is an error. To do it a third time is incompetence and that is what CDS have now demonstrated. Channelling funding through CDS will almost certainly mean that the 2025 date is missed and likely the 2033 date also. Another body has to take charge of the Devon & Somerset programme which has the confidence of the electorate.

    5. NGA for all says:

      Mark, Some are getting too small to justify the procurement cost. Combining the counties ought to make sense at some point. I had a go here for the English counties. https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-kiely-2912696a/detail/recent-activity/shares/

      Feel free to improve.

    6. The Facts says:

      @NGA – ‘Page not found’

    7. MikeP says:

      It’s not the electorate that count any more with these QUANGOs (or rather QUALGOs). It’s the pretty-much-unaccountable LEPs who call the shots.

  5. Peter says:

    The other advantage is that once we are no longer in the EU we no longer have to bother about the EU trying to stick their oar in about “public subsidy” and state aid aspects.

    1. seb says:

      The same EU that allows Italy to spend 3+bn€ to build FTTH everywhere with a coverage already at 50% of the population and where you pay 25-30€ a month for 1Gb down 300Mb up?
      Milan was cabled with 100/100 residential Metro Ethernet in 2001, I’ve never seen a country so behind with broadband as the UK. Yes, FTTC is more developed and so UK gets better “average speed” than Italy, but even in London there are holes. Two weeks ago a friend moved in Bermondsey area and all he can get is ADSL2+. In London. No words.

    2. hv says:

      Welcome to SE16. If your friend lives in a block of flats, try to get Hyperoptic there. I understand they now consider also smaller buildings, not only 30+ flats in the area. If he lives in a house or Hyperoptic says no, it will probably be a long wait as Openreach does not have any plans for the area.

  6. Tom Wilks says:

    “The move to adopt “gigabit” instead of “full fibre” terminology is a sensible one in so far as it makes the 2025 date more plausible”
    Be careful what you wish for, this was tried, tested and failed spectacularly in Australia on the now Multi-technology Mix Broadband Network aka the NBN.

  7. Justine Stirling says:

    Hi, do you guys know how to find out a date that fibre will be available on my road? I still have a standard line which for this day and age is so slow. 96% of the UK have fibre, I live in Sheffield South Yorkshire and still can’t get it.

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