Author(s): Raghu Gopal
On Monday, the UK government announced ambitious plans to ensure that the country will enjoy "full-fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033". The plan was revealed in the government's Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review, and is pitched as a long-term strategy for the telecom sector.
The plan calls for full fibre broadband connections for all newly built homes; network operators will gain a "right of entry" to rented properties such as flats and office blocks so residents and businesses can choose their own suppliers. Telecom providers will get more access to utility infrastructure such as sewers, government-owned buildings and Openreach's ducts and poles. The review document also lays down a new priority to connect hard-to-reach rural areas.
The government has set clear targets for the availability of full fibre as well as for 5G networks: 15 million premises are to be connected to fibre by 2025, with coverage across all parts of the country by 2033. At the moment, the UK has only 4 percent full-fibre connections and lags behind Spain (at 71 percent), Portugal (89 percent) and France (28 percent).
The government's report promises a regulatory environment that will encourage investment, as well as more spectrum for 5G and a framework that will reduce the cost and disruption caused by roadworks. As part of the process, Ofcom is to reform regulation to allow unrestricted access to Openreach ducts and poles for both residential and business uses, including essential mobile infrastructure. It is expected the government will also allow mobile networks to make far greater use of state-owned buildings to boost mobile coverage across the UK.
Ofcom CEO Sharon White said "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".
The government report addresses areas that affect the evolution of the UK's digital infrastructure such as the convergence between fixed-line and mobile technologies, and the transition from copper to full-fibre networks. The extensive use of copper networks is a particularly thorny subject; the UK is slated to phase out copper connections by 2033, nine years after Spain expects to shut down its copper networks.
The UK government believes its recommendations will stimulate competition in urban areas. However, as the commercial viability of fibre to the premises will not extend to remote locations, the government has already earmarked £200 million from existing "superfast broadband" roll-out programmes. The industry has been open to the government proposals and major providers are welcoming the move.
As Internet access has become a basic part of a country's infrastructure needed to support economic and individual development, this is a welcome move and is analogous to major programmes from past centuries such as the creation of a national electricity grid and the establishment of a highway system. The UK needs this spark.