The UK government has unveiled plans to promote the quicker rollout of fibre broadband ahead of an eventual full switch from copper to fibre.
The review also called for an “industry-led switchover” from copper to full fibre coordinated with Ofcom, and increased spectrum access for “innovative 5G services”.
The government said that the changes it has proposed are essential to: give the majority of the UK population access to 5G; connect 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025; and provide full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033.
“We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel,” said Secretary of State for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), Jeremy Wright.
“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.”
The proposals form part of the UK Government’s modern Industrial Strategy and were announced on the first day of the Royal Welsh Show in Builth Wells. The approach is aimed at driving large-scale commercial investment in fixed and wireless networks.
FTIR is designed to spur competition and commercial investment in full fibre networks across “as much of the UK as possible”. However, the government said there will be some parts of the country where it will be unlikely that that the market will be able to deliver alone.
It predicted that nationwide availability of full fibre is likely to require additional funding of roughly £3-£5 billion (€3.4-€5.6 billion) to support commercial investment in some 10% of areas – often rural locations.
The UK government said its ‘outside-in’ strategy will see it support investment in the most difficult to reach areas at the same time as network competition serves the commercially viable areas.
It added that it will use £200 million of its existing Superfast broadband programme to “further the delivery of full fibre networks immediately”.
“The FTIR’s analysis indicates that, without change, full fibre broadband networks will at best only ever reach three quarters of the country, and it would take more than twenty years to do so,” said Wright. “It also indicates that 5G offers the potential for an expansion of the telecoms market, with opportunities for existing players and new entrants.”
The government said that running copper and fibre networks in parallel is costly and inefficient, and a ‘fibre switchover’ strategy will be necessary to stimulate demand, enable new networks to achieve scale quicker, and to ensure a smooth transition process for customers.
Switchover is expected to happen in the majority of the country by 2030, but the government said that timing will ultimately be dependent on the pace of fibre roll out and on the subsequent take-up of fibre products.
The UK currently has only 4% full fibre connections and lags behind a number of European markets including Spain (71%), Portugal (89%) and France (28%).