The government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has published the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR), which it says sets clear, ambitious targets when it comes to full fibre and 5G networks.
The review was initially announced under the government’s Industrial Strategy in November last year, with the aim of examining the market and policy conditions that will enable greater and faster investment in future telecoms infrastructure. The review addresses key questions that could affect the evolution of the UK’s digital infrastructure such as the convergence between fixed and mobile technologies, and the transition from copper to full fibre networks.
The changes proposed within the document are highlighted as needed to allow the majority of the population access to 5G; to connect 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025; and to provide full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033, which the government acknowledges is vital to underpin 5G coverage.
Amongst the recommendations in the FTIR is an industry-led switchover from copper to full fibre, which is to be coordinated with Ofcom. There will also be a new legislation to guarantee full fibre connections to new build developments, and the provision to operators of a ‘right to entry’ to flats, business parks, office blocks and other tenanted properties to allow those who rent to receive fast, reliable connectivity, from the right supplier at the best price.
Also detailed in the document are reforms to the regulatory environment for full fibre broadband that will drive investment and competition and be tailored to different local market conditions; and a new nationwide framework which will reduce the costs, time and disruption caused by street-works by standardising the approach across the country. When it comes to the harder-to-reach locations, the review recommends that public investment in full fibre for rural areas begin simultaneously with commercial investment in urban locations.
Existing infrastructure, such as pipes and sewers, which is owned by other utilities, including power, gas and water, should be easy to access under the review, and available for both fixed and mobile use, whilst industry regulator, Ofcom has been called upon to reform regulation, allowing unrestricted access to Openreach ducts and poles for both residential and business use, including essential mobile infrastructure.
Sharon White, Ofcom Chief Executive, commented: ‘We welcome the government’s review, and share its ambition for full-fibre and 5G networks to be rolled out right across the UK. The government and Ofcom are working together, and with industry, to help ensure people and businesses get the broadband and mobile they need for the 21st century.’
Published alongside the FTIR is a Digital Infrastructure Toolkit which will allow mobile networks to make far greater use of Government buildings to boost coverage across the UK.
DCMS Secretary of State, Jeremy Wright said: ‘We want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live, work or travel. 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 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. It also indicates that 5G offers the potential for an expansion of the telecoms market, with opportunities for existing players and new entrants. The next step is the publication of consultations on legislative changes to streamline wayleaves and mandate fibre connections in new builds. The conclusions of the Review will also form the basis of the government’s Statement of Strategic Priorities (SSP) to Ofcom, setting out the strategic objectives and outcomes that the regulator must have regard to in the exercise of its regulatory functions.
In a statement to the press, a spokesperson from Openreach responded: ‘We’re encouraged by the government’s plan to promote competition, tackle red tape and bust the barriers to investment. As the national provider, we’re ambitious and want to build full fibre broadband to 10 million premises and beyond – so it’s vital that this becomes an attractive investment without creating digital inequality or a lack of choice for consumers and businesses across the country. As the Government acknowledges, the economics of building digital infrastructure remain challenging for everyone, and we believe a review of the current business rates regime is necessary to stimulate the whole sector.
‘We want everybody in the UK to have fast, reliable access to the internet and we’re actively working on ways to increase adoption of our superfast and ultrafast services across the country. As more and more devices, appliances and services go online, we want every home and business to be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want online, all at the same time.’
Mark Collins, director of strategy at CityFibre has also responded to the announcement. He commented: ‘Today marks the day the government decided once and for all to leave copper behind and commit the UK to a full fibre future, making clear that a new generation of infrastructure builders is the vehicle for delivering its bold ambition for all homes and businesses to be connected to full fibre by 2033, not just Openreach.
‘The Government’s plans to deliver nationwide full fibre include a welcome commitment to creating a level-playing field, ensuring greater transparency from the incumbent and delivering a stable regulatory environment for investment. However, it is critical that the consumer is at the heart of this fantastic opportunity from the start, as this is the key to unlocking demand. That means avoiding price rises, ensuring switching between networks is simple and ending the years of misleading “fake fibre” advertising. Getting both sides of the equation right is key to ensuring millions of homes and businesses will benefit – we now need to see the Government and Ofcom push these plans through.’
Independent Networks Cooperative Association (INCA) CEO, Malcolm Corbett has welcomed many of the recommendations made: 'We welcome the government’s FTIR and expect it to encourage the deployment of new networks to boost UK-wide competition, leading to wider coverage and much better services for consumers. It is significant that rural areas are now getting the recognition they deserve when it comes to high-speed connectivity and with the ‘outside in’ approach being taken, we feel confident that the FTIR will make a positive and well-received impact nationwide.
'Traditionally, collaborative approaches were met with caution in case they breached competition laws but, as the FTIR rightly notes, this has not prevented such agreements being developed elsewhere in the EU. With such a big job to do to replace the ageing copper network, it makes sense to encourage more collaboration amongst all industry players. 5G is more than another mobile network upgrade; it is not simply business as usual for mobile operators, but will facilitate new services and new business models, some of which are being trialled through the testbeds programme. With this also comes the need to change the way our broadband regulators work and we are delighted that the government has backed our calls for change when it comes to spectrum allocation.'
Mike Surrey, chief executive, Gigaclear, also welcomed the review. He said: 'As the UK’s largest rural full-fibre network operator, Gigaclear has been calling for the UK government to set out a national plan for full fibre delivery – today the DCMS has delivered on that. The FTIR lays out the path for the future and for a copper switch-off that will not only provide confidence to full fibre investors and the operators they support, but also for consumers who struggle with inadequate infrastructure. Wayleave reform, consistent street works rules and further funding to support rural areas should go a long way to accelerating full fibre delivery. Whilst the devil will be in the detail – today’s announcement marks a huge leap forwards into the UK’s full fibre future.'