Governments sets out full fibre and 5G vision with more funding to reach 100%
The vision for broadband in the UK has today firmly moved on from the old superfast label as legislation is outlined that will make the full fibre targets (over half UK premises by 2025 and remainder to be covered by 2033) and to underpin 5G coverage.
The Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) has been published and the big question around whether the Government was going to commit more public money is resolved, as a new 'outside-in' strategy is set to be adopted and this strategy is set to be used to identify the final 10% least likely to get full fibre from the commercial roll-outs, this final 10% is likely to be rural areas, but just as with the superfast roll-outs there will be chunks in urban parts of the UK too. The funding needed in this final 10% is estimated to require an additional £3 billion to £5 billion and there seems to be an attempt to tie the roll-out in these areas with the commercial roll-outs in the viable towns and cities, so that they happen at a similar time rather than waiting for the closing months of 2033. To help with getting things started ahead of the Government making the extra billions available there is around £200 million identified as remaining from the old BDUK projects, this is a combination we believe of the clawback and effeciency savings.
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.DCMS Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright
The list of key changes that form the FTIR are:
- New housing developments to be forced to include full fibre connections by default
- A 'right to entry' to flats, business parks and other properties for broadband operators. To ensure full fibre is rolled out and allow people to pick connectivity from the right supplier at the price they like.
- Reform of regulation with the aim of driving commercial investment in full fibre and tailored to the different local markets
- Switchover from copper to full fibre, to be coordinated by Ofcom but led by industry
- New standardised streetworks framework with the aim of reducing costs and disruption
- More radio spectrum for 5G services
- Providing easy access to infrastructure such as ducts, pipes and sewers from utility companies e.g. power, gas and water for mobile infrastructure and full fibre roll-outs
- Ofcom to further reform the Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) regime to allow unrestricted access to Openreach ducts and poles
- Greater use of Government buildings to boost mobile coverage across the UK
For fixed wireless broadband providers the shift to 100% full fibre is the writing on the wall, and for those hoping the broadband USO was going to be a golden era of growth it is clear that unless fixed wireless operators adapt and build their own full fibre networks they will slowly wither away. The other option is for the fixed wireless providers to become key partners in the 5G roll-out.
Does today mean that G.fast is a dead duck? We don't think a total dead duck, but certainly seems to kill off any notion of further expansion beyond the 10 million premises target by the end of 2021. The reason we think this does not kill off G.fast just yet is that it will allow Openreach to roll-out a large ultrafast footprint quickly and relatively cheaply, especially in areas where other operators have delivered their full fibre services and Openreach is busy with its own full fibre roll-out elsewhere. Clearly G.fast is dead once the copper switch off happens, which raises the question of how far commercially Openreach will go with the full fibre network, to support a telephone line this would in theory need to be 100% of homes.
The copper switch off is acknowledged as being very dependent on the roll-out of full fibre but also crucially on the take-up of full fibre but the FTIR believes it is realistic to expect the majority of the country to have switched over by 2030.
We’re encouraged by the Government’s plan to promote competition, tackle red tape and bust the barriers to investment. As the national provider, we’re ambitious and want to build full fibre broadband to 10 million premises and beyond – so it’s vital that this becomes an attractive investment without creating digital inequality or a lack of choice for consumers and businesses across the country. As the Government acknowledges, the economics of building digital infrastructure remain challenging for everyone, and we believe a review of the current business rates regime is necessary to stimulate the whole sector.
We want everybody in the UK to have fast, reliable access to the internet and we’re actively working on ways to increase adoption of our superfast and ultrafast services across the country. As more and more devices, appliances and services go online, we want every home and business to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want online, all at the same time.
We’re already building full fibre to around 10,000 homes and businesses every week, and by 2020 we’ll have reached 3 million.
We have a huge, world class engineering team and wherever we build, we’ll deliver the best quality network with the highest levels of service and built-in competition and choice.
We’re determined to be the dependable partner for Government, the industry and our 600 wholesale customers as we work to bolster Britain’s position as a global digital leader.Openreach response to FTIR
The pace of the roll-out is we suspect a very recent increase in the pace, rather than something that has been happening for months, since we are not spotting close to that number of Openreach FTTP premises each week, we spot more like 1000-2000 each week, of course we may be missing lots more. One of the issues we have seen is sometimes places featured in the PR as being connected do not appear ready for service for weeks or months longer.
The next steps are securing the funding needed for those areas that will miss out and can we suggest that the Broadband USO which is still in its design phase by Ofcom be adapted to maybe offer better incentives if full fibre is delivered as part of the USO.
Today marks the day the Government decided once and for all to leave copper behind and commit the UK to a full fibre future, making clear that a new generation of infrastructure builders is the vehicle for delivering its bold ambition for all homes and businesses to be connected to full fibre by 2033, not just Openreach. CityFibre is already building the networks that the UK’s economy needs to prosper and is ready to work with industry and Government to make this a reality quickly.
The Government’s plans to deliver nationwide full fibre include a welcome commitment to creating a level-playing field, ensuring greater transparency from the incumbent and delivering a stable regulatory environment for investment. However, it is critical that the consumer is at the heart of this fantastic opportunity from the start, as this is the key to unlocking demand. That means avoiding price rises, ensuring switching between networks is simple and ending the years of misleading ‘fake fibre’ advertising. Getting both sides of the equation right is key to ensuring millions of homes and businesses will benefit - we now need to see the Government and Ofcom push these plans through.
Mark Collins, Director of Strategy at CityFibre
Update 10am The level playing field comment is of note because if there is to be a level playing field, then all the full fibre services need to support a voice service that is compatible with the requirements for landlines to support emergency calls during a power cut. In effect the need for battery backup to power the fibre ONT and in the case of the Vodafone roll-out their router too (since we believe the voice is via the broadband router). Of course this has been an issue since the rise of the cordless phone in the home, hence why so many homes retain one old fashioned corded phone. Internet usage is not 100% in the UK yet and probably never will be, and it is those homes who see no need for the Internet that may prove the most resistant to adopting fibre as part of a digital switchover.
The notes in the CityFibre statement have used slightly different wording on the footprint stating "CityFibre’s wholesale full fibre networks will reach no less than 20% of UK homes and businesses by 2025" which seems to carry the suggestion that the option to extend from 1 million to 5 million homes by Vodafone is a lot more certain than previous wording has suggested. 20% also means that in 2025 it looks like Openreach will probably still be the largest single full fibre operator.
We welcome the Government’s statement today that a switchover from hybrid to full fibre networks could be underway in the majority of the country by 2030. But the devil is in the detail.
While the Government is right to state that a full-throttle drive to nationwide full fibre connectivity requires competition and commercial investment to succeed, a fair and equitable playing field for all infrastructure providers is essential. This has not always been the case. There are numerous examples of tax payers’ money being wasted by national incumbent providers building FTTC/FTTP networks in areas where privately funded infrastructure providers have already deployed.
We urge the Government to engage more closely with industry in the drawing up of the regulatory and policy changes mooted in the report. And to do this fast. Swift decision making is of the essence if the UK is to have the digital future it deserves.Evan Wienburg, CEO of full fibre infrastructure provider TrueSpeed
Update 10:05am The statements are coming in thick and fast this morning. On overbuild we suspect that the push for full fibre in combination with a copper switchoff is actually going to increase the amount of overbuild, both from commercial operators now visiting areas where the BDUK already has built or is planning on going. The copper switch off if successful needs fibre to all homes but also needs the public to have their choice of phone service not curtailed, ie. the millions who have stuck with BT Consumer for years will be reluctant to switch voice providers just to satisfy a Government target, i.e. regulating to avoid a new over dominant Openreach needs to be balanced with ensuring that retail choice exists for the public on telephone services over the new full fibre networks.
We asked Truespeed about the waste of money on overbuild and was pointed to the various battles between Lancashire County Council and B4RN, if you toggle the layers off/on on our broadband map at https://labs.thinkbroadband.com/local/broadband-map#10/54.1624/-2.5447/openreach/geafttp/b4rn/ you can judge for yourself the extent of the overlap. A lot of the problems of overlap stem from the original Open Market Review in Lancashire and the format the county council wanted the data presented in.
Update 11:45am ISPA has released the following statement in response to the FTIR.
The broadband sector is at an exciting intersection and ready to be propelled into the next full fibre phase of its development. It will be crucial for industry to work collaboratively and in close consultation with Government and Ofcom to further identify how the sector can be best stimulated to deliver the future-proof infrastructure the country needs. We particularly look forward to working further with Government to remove barriers to broadband rollout, the single most important lever policymakers can use to accelerate the rollout of infrastructure.Andrew Glover, Chair of ISPA
Update 1:05pm We asked CityFibre a question about their comment on the FTIR - you talk about a level playing field, does that mean CityFibre is happy to play its part by ensuring the network it delivers in conjunction with its partners meets a telephone USO with regards to emergency calls, namely that Fibre ONT will have battery backup to support any voice services? The response is below:
Ofcom and Government will appoint either single ISP or a group of ISPs to deliver USO services. The ISP’s should not be obligated to use their own networks. In setting a level playing field, CityFibre believes that the USO ISP should use a fibre infrastructure provider that is best able to deliver the USO connection - as wholesale network providers, this might be CityFibre in urban areas or, for example, Gigaclear in rural areas.
We believe it is wrong to mandate the provision of battery back up, as many voice phones themselves need power to operate, and most users will have mobile phones. However, we do support the view that customers should have the option to request battery backup when placing their order, potentially attracting an additional small charge levied by the ISP.CityFibre response to question on telephone USO
One of the key parts that Openreach in its current plans to switch from WLR to Voice Over Broadband by 2025 was how those who sell the WLR service can identify those vulnerable people in society where the existing fixed line telephone service is critical. The CityFibre response does miss one element that is going to be crucial when a copper switch off does occur, since the public will not be expecting to have to go and order a new service, so how this will work in areas where Openreach has not delivered full fibre but CityFibre (or some other provider has) is the sort of aspect that needs resolving, i.e. how will someone who only takes a voice service sign up to a voice service with minimal disruption. Relying on the mobile network for emergency calls may not be enough; while the mobile is the most common device people reach for in that instance, there has been problems during extended power cuts or incidents of flooding of mast sites. 5G may bring much better mobile coverage, but it seems unlikely every bit of street furniture that houses a 5G nano-cell will get battery backup.
Update 2:05pm Added comment from Internet Telephony Services Providers’ Association - ITSPA
In general, the proposals put forward by Government are welcome. The UK is lagging behind many other countries in terms of full fibre rollout and it is important that we step up now to remain competitive. Our members already see the benefits that full fibre brings where it is currently deployed; both in terms of new business as well as service offerings for their customers. The message is clear, there simply needs to be more of it!.
Whilst switching over to full fibre is definitely welcome, the Government and Ofcom needs to ensure that in doing so, they don’t hurt a thriving telco industry that has developed over the past few decades. A balance needs to be struck around existing regulations that were relevant in a PSTN world but are becoming increasingly less appropriate in an IP environment, where consumers and businesses are using services in a very different way. Equally there are certain processes that need to be maintained, with IP alternatives developed before migration can be considered. Issues range far and wide; from battery backup for 999 access to developing an IP version of TDM Interconnect but all are important to ensure the industry is not unfairly damaged by an ill-thought out transition plan. We will be working with Ofcom and Government to ensure these concerns are clearly understood as we work towards a prosperous full IP futureChair of ITSPA, Eli Katz
Update 6:10pm A few more comments from operators and other parties.
As the UK’s largest rural full-fibre network operator, Gigaclear has been calling for UK government to set out a national plan for full fibre delivery – today DCMS has delivered on that.
This is the most ambitious national telecoms strategy in a generation, laying out the path for a copper switch-off that will not only provide confidence to full fibre investors and the operators they support, but also for consumers who struggle with inadequate infrastructure.
Wayleave reform, consistent street works rules and further funding to support rural areas should go a long to accelerating full fibre delivery. Whilst the devil will be in the detail – today’s announcement marks a huge leap forwards into the UK’s full fibre future.Mike Surrey, Chief Executive, Gigaclear
We welcome the Government’s FTIR and expect it to encourage the deployment of new networks to boost UK-wide competition, leading to wider coverage and much better services for consumers,” said Corbett. “It is significant that rural areas are now getting the recognition they deserve when it comes to high-speed connectivity and with the ‘outside in’ approach being taken, we feel confident that the FTIR will make a positive and well-received impact nationwide.
Traditionally, collaborative approaches were met with caution in case they breached competition laws but, as the FTIR rightly notes, this has not prevented such agreements being developed elsewhere in the EU,” added Corbett, “With such a big job to do to replace the ageing copper network, it makes sense to encourage more collaboration amongst all industry players.INCA CEO Malcolm Corbett
The dream of full-fibre deployment is a costly one and whilst its benefits are real, their value is questionable. If households can obtain perfectly adequate connections through copper networks, then the billions of pounds in government subsidy required (the report suggests £3bn-£5bn) for full-fibre seem perhaps unnecessary. There seems to be an ideological fixation on fibre-optic broadband which supersedes the business case for its full implementation. In reality, in order to make copper-networks obsolete, the government may (in addition to sensible measures designed to make it easier or cheaper to build fibre networks) need to change regulations so as to raise the price of copper-based services. This could mean prices will have to rise in order to subside the full fibre roll-out.
Equally, pressures could come from many internet service providers whose precious investments in copper-based infrastructure may now be at risk.Mike Conradi, Partner at law firm DLA Piper