Six UK areas to pilot roll-outs for Gigabit full fibre broadband
Fibre to the press release is an all too present danger and hopefully with the launch of six pilot areas to test the roll-out of fibre fingers crossed it will become a reality for many thousands more people and businesses.
HM Treasury has accounced that Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, West Sussex, Coventry and Warwickshire, Bristol (including Bath and North East Somerset), West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester will get something like £10m to test ways of delivering full fibre to businesses, public sector and homes. The £10m is split six ways so the potential is to deliver some 10,000 to 20,000 premises extra coverage, until commercial partners and the amount they are contributing plus precisely which areas they are connecting its difficult to know what the resulting footprint will be.
The £10m for the pilots comes from a much larger £200m fund that is intended to get a lot more full fibre across the UK and this is due to be spent by 2020 to 2021. So the pilots need to be up and running quickly if analysis and choice of winning techniques is to lead to much larger roll-outs.
"We want to see more commercial investment in the gold standard connectivity that full fibre provides, and these innovative pilots will help create the right environment for this to happen. To keep Britain as the digital world leader that it is, we need to have the right infrastructure in place to allow us to keep up with the rapid advances in technology now and in the future."Minister of State for Digital, Matt Hancock MP
The momenutum for a much wider roll-out of fibre to the premises (full fibre) has been building and the pilots may go down in history as the turning point at which roll-outs of full fibre accelerated, the signs of this are already appearing e.g. we have started to spot some of the commercial Openreach FTTP roll-out restarting in cities, particularly around business parks and aims for 2 million premises by 2020, Virgin Media is also looking at a million or so premises via its Project Lightning, Hyperoptic continue to expand to blocks of flats and City Fibre is talking of starting in 5 to 10 cities in the next year with Fibre to the Home rather than just a metro fibre network, and the list goes on.
The headline message from HM Treasury is all about full fibre delivering the UK's fastest broadband, but until we know about operators and products its impossible to say much more beyond it is likely a range of speeds will be available, or alternatively everyone might get a Gigabit connection but the amount you pay will control shared the capacity is e.g. consumers paying £30 to £40 per month might have a Gigabit connection with a 5 Mbps guaranteed peak throughput, but a business needing consistent symmetric Gigabit speeds might spend £600 per month to guarantee throughput at all times. The key difference with full fibre is that the lottery of distance causing drops in speed and interference from errant electric devices vanishes, thus it should be more reliable, but the actual quality of experience is not immediately guaranteed unless operators scale the network appropriately.
How this fits in with the ongoing superfast roll-outs is a big unknown since will it mainly overbuild those networks or try to fill in the holes, e.g. business parks where speeds are very variable to due distance. With the date for the Universal Service Obligation rapidly approaching and nothing set in concrete in terms of delivery there will clearly be plenty of people hoping the pilots will deliver to those areas that have been ignored to date.
One concern we have is that the press release talks about hospitals, schools and other public sector buildings a lot more than the home and the SME market, this may mean we see more metro fibre networks as options and these don't count in the globally accepted definition of premises passed by full fibre. There is a suggestion that the hope is that by bringing public sector anchor tennants along that the future will see a roll-out to homes and this is precisely what areas like Southend and others who have City Fibre building in their area are gambling on. The difference between a metro fibre network and full fibre (FTTP) is the metro network is generally within a couple of hundred metres of premises when you order, but for FTTP coverage the fibre needs to be installed to the kerb outside each property so that only the final 10 to 15m needs connecting when you order (in some FTTP cases its not even that far when you order the service, just plug in the router to a pre-installed socket in a property).
The announcement makes no distinction between rural and urban areas and until details of each area are announced it will remain unknown what label to attach to the pilots.
For those confused by the many definitions using for broadband here is a quick summary:
- high speed broadband - generally 10 to 15 Mbps speeds
- superfast broadband - faster than 24 Mbps (EU definition 30 Mbps and faster)
- ultrafast broadband - 100 Mbps and faster (Ofcom uses a 300 Mbps definition)
- partial fibre - VDSL2/FTTC services from a cabinet in the street
- full fibre - fibre optic into the property (fibre to the premises), in apartments some Gigabit CAT5e or CAT6 ethernet cable may be used to take fibre from a utility cupboard on each floor to each flat.
Update 8am We believe that the pilot in the West Yorkshire area is focussed on a voucher scheme for businesses, with up to £3,000 available for firms to install full fibre to the business premises. Full details are not available but we presume this is intended to cover providers selling the Fibre on Demand products from Openreach, connecting up to the CityFibre network via a local ISP partner or using a full fibre Ethernet/leased line service that should be available almost everywhere but due to the high costs and for the custom build each usually requires many businesses tend to avoid currently.