Queen's Speech sets out broadband agenda
The Queen's Speech may be seen as a waste of time by some but it providers a key point in time where a Government can formally lay out what its plans are for the next Parliament and while the uncertaintity around the impact of Brexit remain the likelihood that with broadband issues generally gaining a broad level of support is that moves to improve broadband coverage are some of the more likely ones to get passed into legislation without too many obstables.
To ensure that the benefits of a prospering economy reach every corner of the United Kingdom, my Ministers will bring forward a National Infrastructure Strategy. This will set out a long-term vision to improve the nation’s digital, transport and energy infrastructure. New legislation will help accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks to millions of homes [Telecommunications Infrastructure (Leasehold Property) Bill]. An aviation bill will provide for the effective and efficient management of the United Kingdom’s airspace Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill. Proposals on railway reform will be brought forward.Extract from Her Majesty’s most gracious speech to both Houses of Parliament on 14th October 2019
The text of the speech given the range of topics to be covered and time limits mean that it is always a summary of the key points, with the detail covered in the background briefing paperwork which runs to 118 pages with the broadband segment on pages 82,83 and 84.
The legislation around making it easier for broadband firms to gain access to flats was covered last week, but other changes are on the way including building regulations requiring all new build developments to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections. The key part here is support, which is different to actually install, which means ensuring the construction includes appropriate ducting and access options for broadband services. On its own ducting and other changes are no use, so there is a plan to make developers required to work with broadband firms to install gigabit-cable connections in virtually all new build developments (subject to a cost cap).
There is a pattern in the briefing, it refers to gigabit-capable almost exclusively rather than full fibre, it is possible that the underlying aim is for where Gigabit-capable appears that we should read that as full fibre but to be technology neutral they are using the former terminology. The danger here is that we may see a wide range of different Gigabit-capable solutions appearing e.g. low earth orbit utilising mmWave frequencies could deliver Gigabit broadband to large swathes of the countryside and at a massively lower cost than full fibre. Then of course their is 5G which given enough of the right radio spectrum can deliver Gigabit download speeds and in the mmWave bands is set to be similar latency to full fibre, the problem there is that most 5G destined for rural areas is going to be in the much 700 MHz band or use similar frequencies to the exist 4G services, delivering several hundred Mega bits per second.
- One in seven people in the UK live in flats or apartments and it is estimated there are 450,000 blocks of flats in the UK.
- 40 per cent of operators’ requests seeking access from a landlord receive no response.
- It is estimated that operators will connect an extra 3,000 properties a year as a result of the Leasehold Property Bill.
- 22 per cent of new build developments in 2019 have been built without a gigabit-capable connection.
- 40,000 new homes are built a year without full fibre.
- A gigabit-capable network connection is one that is capable of achieving 1,000 megabits per second, i.e. 1 gigabits per second, download speeds.Key Facts on broadband from Queen's Speech background paper, page 84
On the 22% of new build without a Gigabit-capable connection, our latest data as of 29th September (figures will have changed slightly since then but we have not ran this specific analysis for two weeks), shows that if we include Virgin Media cable services (which should shortly be officially Gigabit available) then of the premises identified as 2019 build 80.9% are full fibre based and there is 0.7% covered by Virgin Media. The Gigabit-capable figure will be sightly higher as their is 0.7% of Virgin Media cable but some of this overlaps with other full fibre services.
In terms of 40,000 built a year without access to full fibre, if the 7 months of data from 2019 we have tracked are correct then in 2019 this looks set to be lower at 30,558 premises, in 2018 our data is recording 53,387 new build premises without full fibre. So the figures are improving, the fun bit will be closing that gap down so 0% are built without access to Gigabit broadband options.
One figure we have a slight worry about is the '40 per cent of operators’ requests' which sounds very like what Openreach have been talking about in relation to the problems they had gaining access to properties in areas such as the City of London. Just like the figure mentioned many years ago about a Openreach VDSL2 cabinet costing £100,000 to deploy we would like to see more detail on how this 40% figure has been arrived at.