Up to £5 billion for the 2025 full fibre or is it a Gigabit target?
It is thought the 100% full fibre target has been watered down to 100% Gigabit coverage by end of 2025, we say thought as we did chase DCMS press contact for confirmation but there has been no response and until a firm plan is released everyone is stuck with a guessing game.
The rumour today is the The Conservative Party conference is going to be the scene for the unvieling of up to £5 billion of funding for broadband upgrades. The Telegraph article (from what we can see as a paywall exists) states 'as much as £5 billion' and that the money will be spent in rural areas.
So if £5 billion is made available (remember this is at least double the public money that went into the much longer running BDUK process) what will it deliver? If used in rural areas a lot will depend on which rural areas but this could help between 2 million and 5 million premises, the low figure assumes an intervention cost of £2,500 to deliver full fibre and the higher figure £1,000 per property. In terms of adding to the coverage total this is between 6.4% and 16% of the premises likely to exist in 2025.
On the Gigabit instead of full fibre we have not ran a news story on it before as we were hoping for some form of official statement so that there was some clarity but alas nothing. Moving to a Gigabit definition allows for DOCSIS 3.1 i.e. Virgin Media cable to count towards the target and if that roll-out was to magically happen tonight it would jump the UK from 9.3% Gigabit coverage to 56% (i.e. 2% behind current ultrafast figure, due to Gigabit definition means G.fast does not count). A cunning plan and one we warned of publicly in July 2019.
What the Government may not have comprehended is that the bulk of the full fibre roll-outs is actually overlapping with the Virgin Media network while there is some 15 to 20 million of FTTP announced at the PR level for completion by 2025, this is likely at best to give a Gigabit coverage figure of around 60 to 70%. In addition to the overlap with Virgin Media there are already a growing number of locations with 2 full fibre options.
Three questions arise:
- How will the commercial operators be steered to overlap less with Virgin Media and thus meet the Government led roll-out at an agreed point?
- The second question is who will be doing the building that the Government is funding?
- Under what contract terms will the up to £5 billion be spent, e.g. will it be totally Government funded or will existing gap-funded templates be re-purposed
Politically we suspect that the questions have no solid answers as yet and the hope is that even if the UK does not hit 100% Gigabit coverage by 31st March 2026 but reaches 90% Gigabit via fixed line solutions it will still be champagne all round as the presence of low earth orbit satellites with 4G like latency and maybe even a top range package of Gigabit speeds followed by a voucher scheme to subsidise the install will be the order of the day.
Our tracker of how many premises need to be passed with FTTP every day to reach a 100% full fibre 2025 goal is at 12,056 premises every day without fail. With the DOCSIS 3.1 sleight of hand this falls to around 6,000 premises a day which is a rate we see a couple of times each month, whereas the higher 12,000 figure was met perhaps once in the last two months. At the rate of building FTTP during the last six months 15 million premises of actual full fibre is set to be reached in 2031.