£5 billion is not just for full fibre but includes 5G services too
Spending £5 billion on broadband and especially if concentrated in rural areas will be welcome news to those who live and work in the rural parts of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but a day after news appeared on there being £5 billion of funding for broadband ahead of the Sajid Javid speech to The Conservative Party conference the downsides are becoming apparent.
The widespread coverage now highlights that the £5 billion covers both full fibre and 5G, including 5G in a Gigabit target is interesting. Technically given enough spectrum at the right frequencies 5G can achieve Gigabit speeds but in cities abroad where this has been rolled out commercially it is using the mmWave bands which don't travel very far, so of little use in rural areas. The chunk of spectrum allocated to Three in the UK should mean that their 5G should have close to Gigabit speeds when you are in sight of the mast and there in lies the problem. 5G is distance and enviroment limited and while breaking the tether of fixed line services, is not the magic bullet that getting full fibre deployed would be. Put this another way, if 5G was a true replacement for full fibre data centres would be using it already rather than running lots of fibre between racks and suites.
Heading back to the rural element, a reminder that Great Britain has some 6.3 million rural premises and full fibre coverage stands at 9.5% in those rural areas. Northern Ireland has its own measure of rurality but if you combine the villages and intermediate settlements this is some 273,000 premises with full fibre coverage of 12.2% currrently. The existing commercial full fibre roll-outs and gap funded roll-outs in rural areas are likely to deliver another 500,000 to 1,000,000 premises of FTTP, leaving by our reckoning 4.9 million to 5.4 million rural premises in need of full fibre.
If there is going to be some 5 million premises in need of full fibre invention in rural areas, then £5 billion shared between full fibre and 5G projects is not going to be enough money and falls well short of being a revolution in terms of investment in broadband and is just a continuation of the decade long sticking plaster approach.
More money delivering better broadband is of course welcome, but we feel duty bound to point out the realities as we see them.