A Budget before any General Election will always try to make people feel better about their own finances and prospects for the future, unless the Chancellor does not want to be re-elected and so a lot of the rhetoric from the latest Budget were no real surprise.
While the improved coverage at superfast and the USO are not jaw dropping, the moment that a national plan for ultra-fast broadband was mentioned got the tech world reaching for this social media buttons.
In 2010 we set out our goal for the UK to have the best superfast broadband network in Europe. Today we announce our ambition that ultrafast broadband of at least 100Mbps should become available to nearly all UK premises. This document sets out our strategy to deliver this ambitionExtract from DCMS and Treasury Digital Communications Infrastructure Strategy
The process of the superfast roll-outs is important and the Government was actually slightly conservative in its figures announced since for the UK we estimate 81.3% have access to Superfast Broadband at 30 Mbps or faster and the chancellor declared 80% at 24 Mbps, and that is even with our pessimistic expectations for VDSL2 that take into account distance, crosstalk and the impact of interleaving.
So what is the grand national plan for ultra-fast broadband, well at present it seems to be to legislate to make deeper roll-out of fibre easier (and hopefully cheaper) and via funding guarantees seek to encourage a commercial roll-out that was more impressive than the original superfast roll-outs by Openreach and Virgin Media.
The funding guarantee is interesting as apparently it is 'supporting Virgin’s proposed £3 billion investment' and is part of a £40 billion fund aimed at kickstarting infrastructure projects. The idea being that the system covers the amount raised by private investment and in the case of a project failure the investors do not lose everything, a little like going to Las Vegas with a guarantee that you will NOT lose all your money on the poker tables.
So the question really is that we know how deep Virgin Media is aiming to go on its ultra-fast coverage i.e. an increase from 48% to around 66%, but how far will Openreach decide to go with G.fast and over what time period. There are occasional hints of a decade long national plan, which dovetails with the timeframe Openreach is talking about for its G.fast roll-out. While the early G.fast roll-out is going to be cabinet based, with DP deployment to follow once the power cost issues are resolved - and that is something the Government could do a lot to help, i.e. access to low cost power for the Internet of Things and faster broadband roll-outs.
Many have suggested that a fit for purpose network necessitates the extension of FTTP to meet future demand. This could be particularly critical for businesses, which are increasingly looking for reliable, standardised fibre products. However, there is little consensus about the wider consumer need, as many benefits can be realised through alternative solutions (such as fibre to telegraph poles or to more street-side cabinets).DCMS and Treasury on FTTH/FTTP
For those thinking that ultra-fast must be FTTH there is a killer blow, and this is while the need for business is seen more clearly, the benefit for consumers is seen as less urgent and with talk of the market delivering Gigabit on demand solutions with 'standardised terms' then a nationwide FTTH roll-out looks unlikely, but rather a targeted approach where those who must have it can do so with payment of the larger than usual set-up. In short think fibre on demand but only paying for the last 100 metre of the fibre run.
The lack of ambition towards FTTH does mean that the commercial operators already running in this sphere should have some more time to create a critical mass and demonstrate the advantages of full glass to a property, rather than just getting close and a little bit of twisted pair or coax for the last fiddly few metres.
In summary there appears to be no major ambition for a repeat of the BDUK process but for ultra-fast at this time. There is also no actual definition of what almost all means, based on previous use of these term we believe it should be in the 90% and upwards region.
A few other things are also mentioned, 4G coverage and we have covered the freeing up of 700 MHz spectrum by shifting Freeview down the spectrum before, but now £600 million will be allocated to support this change and ensure that Europe wide goal of 4G on the 700 MHz band becomes reality.
For the supporters of IPv6 while you missed out on the main budget speech you do fall into the infrastructure report, but only to say the Government is reviewing whether any action is needed, one gets the impression that until the Internet of Things has broken IPv4 totally and trading of IPv4 blocks pushes up the cost of consumer broadband will anything happen.