Gigabit target at risk say MPs
The 100% Gigabit target (which was always going to be 99% at best) for 2025 was recently given an injection of scaling back when the Government announced they aim to hit 85% while only allocating £1.2 billion of the £5 billion previously meant to help fund roll-outs outside the pure commercial sector.
Now a committee of MPs is being widely covered as having doubts and concerns over the risk that the lower 85% target will not be met, and apparently the telecoms sector is reported as having no belief that 85% is possible.
There is a good reason the telecoms probably has no belief and that is because it is an industry that prefers to have plans and milestones on the way towards a much higher goal. If the telecoms industry did have a blind belief that 85% was possible we would be very worried.
The questions today should not be about getting scared about the risks, but being pragmatic and making sure that work continues to deliver the commercial roll-outs without hinderance and for the Government to ramp its spending on publicly funded Gigabit roll-outs both in terms of delivery timescales and money spent.
The good news fluffy pet part of the story is that Building Digital UK (BDUK) is saying it will be aiming to target its Gigabit roll-out to areas with large amounts of properties where existing speeds are below 30 Mbps i.e. not superfast.
So where is the UK at this point in time? Well with the time spent this morning reading the reactions across the UK we are probably around 1,500 premises behind where we would normally be at this time with our normal hunt for FTTP and Gigabit services.
The overnight figures have the UK sat at 36.81% Gigabit availability (i.e. the combined total for full fibre and DOCSIS 3.1 and overlaps are taken into account). The Virgin Media Gig1 switch-on which is the DOCSIS 3.1 component is set to complete in 2021 and if no more FTTP is built that would give the UK 61.55% Gigabit coverage. The mixture of commercial, BDUK, vouchers and community projects delivered around 9 percentage points of FTTP in the last year so with 5 years more building that could easily be another 45 percentage points of FTTP on top of the current 18.89% (note figures are from our internal systems which update totals daily, next public site update is due on 27th December). The key to the puzzle is how much the FTTP roll-outs will overlap with the DOCSIS 3.1 service.
On the overlaps UK wide 8.05% of UK premises are currently covered by a cable broadband service and one FTTP service or have two or more FTTP networks available. In a city like Coventry where CityFibre and Openreach are both busy rolling out FTTP on top of the Virgin Media network that overlapping nature jumps to 45.94%. There are five other council areas where this overlap is higher with Belfast leading the pack at 69.66%.
As things stand today, since no contracts have been awarded by BDUK in the Gigabit roll-out out prediction for 2025 is still 74.9% GIgabit coverage. The 10% gap is the size of risk that exists and is dependant on how BDUK performs.
In the commercial sector the numerous announcements also carry a risk and with the large number of FTTP builders there are going to be issues as one or two who may collapse commerically, with any network already built of of a reasonable size likely to be bought i.e. a repeat of the original cable TV roll-outs in the 1990's.
Important points that need saying, which the target is around access to Gigabit it is about people having the option, there is no requirement to buy a Gigabit service, the public can opt for slower speeds such as 40 Mbps or 100 Mbps depending on their budget.
If Virgin Media has completed its DOCSIS 3.1 switch-on by Christmas 2021 predicting where the Gigabit coverage will be in 2025 will be a lot easier.