The government has announced a new telecoms strategy with a number of far-reaching targets including nationwide installation of full-fibre broadband, and the total removal of copper-wired networks.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) published the paper, known as the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), with the headline being the proposal that every property in the UK will have full fibre coverage by 2033.
DCMS Secretary Jeremy Wright, announcing the proposal, said: “We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity, no matter where they live, work or travel. This radical new blueprint for the future of telecommunications in this country will increase competition and investment in full-fibre broadband, create more commercial opportunities and make it easier and cheaper to roll out infrastructure for 5G.”
The paper proposes the changes necessary to give the entirety of the population access to full-fibre broadband in the next 15 years, with the partial target of a majority of the population – around 15 million premises – in the next 7, by 2025. Similarly, a majority of the population must have access to 5G by 2033, with the department explicitly linking the two services – DCMS’ summary states that “full fibre infrastructure is vital to underpin 5G coverage.”
Part of the reason for the new proposals has been recent worrying news showing that the UK has fallen behind in supplying fast internet to houses, with only 4% of premises covered – compared to 89% in Portugal for instance. The report explains that, without change to the existing core infrastructure, full-fibre broadband “will at best only ever reach three quarters of the country, and it would take more than twenty years to do so.”
The FTIR also includes a raft of other proposals, all with the intention of modernising Britain’s cable infrastructure. Some are aimed at encouraging further investment, such as changes to the regulator, and boosting public investment in rural areas with the intention of prioritising commercial investment in more lucrative urban areas. The government has promised to take the lead in investing in hard-to-reach areas, mostly in Scotland and Wales, that hold little profitable interest for private providers. The government will also allow private internet providers more widespread use of government facilities – buildings, masts, pipe networks etc. – if it will help to spread coverage.
Sharon White, Chief Executive of Ofcom, viewed the changes positively, saying: “We welcome the Government’s review, and share its ambition for full-fibre and 5G networks to be rolled out right across the UK. The Government and Ofcom are working together, and with industry, to help ensure people and businesses get the broadband and mobile they need for the 21st Century.” Openreach, the infrastructure provider that will be carrying out much of the work, said that it was “encouraged by the Government’s plan to promote competition, tackle red tape and bust the barriers to investment.”