UK PM candidate pledges fast internet for all by 2025 – but is the devil in the detail?

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As UK leadership candidate Boris Johnson pledges to make full fibre available for all UK homes by 2025, the industry questions whether this is entirely realistic.

Existing targets, as published the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review (FTIR) last summer, include allowing the majority of the population access to 5G; connecting 15 million premises to full fibre broadband by 2025 and providing full fibre broadband coverage across all of the UK by 2033 – which the government acknowledged as ‘vital to underpin 5G coverage’.

Johnson made the claim in his regular column for The Telegraph, in which he said: ‘The government has just set a new target for the 100 per cent roll-out of full fibre broadband – by 2033. As a deadline, that is laughably unambitious. If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full fibre to every home in the land not in the mid-2030s – but in five years at the outside.’

There is little doubt that the rate of fibre deployment in the UK needs to accelerate in the run-up to 5G and beyond. This year’s Market Panorama figures – prepared by iDate – which were revealed at the FTTH Conference in Amsterdam, saw the UK enter the European rankings for only the first time. However, predictions in the study pointed to the market catching up to become second in the ranking in 2025, ahead of France and Spain.

There seems to be, as yet, little detail yet provided by Johnson about how this target could logistically be met in terms of delivering the infrastructure and ensuring the funding and regulations are present and equipped to cope. But it has got the industry talking. In a response from the UK Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA), chair Andrew Glover commented: ‘Boris Johnson’s ambitious commitment to achieve full fibre coverage by 2025 is welcome, but needs to be matched with ambitious regulatory change, including reform of the Fibre Tax. Broadband is a largely privately financed infrastructure and together with outdated planning laws, fibre business rates are holding our members back from accelerating their roll-out plans.’

Likewise, Richard Watts, business development director at digital infrastructure specialist VX Fiber commented: ‘Although this is an admirable pledge by Boris Johnson, it is one that shouldn’t be taken lightly and without an acknowledgement or a true understanding of the UK’s current connectivity situation. Indeed, connecting Britain - ensuring that every citizen has access to high-speed internet - should be a key priority for the UK government. Compared to the rest of Europe, we currently sit embarrassingly close to the bottom of the connectivity list when it comes to Full Fibre.

‘UK government funds and initiatives such as the Digital Infrastructure Investment (DIIF) fund investing in fibre rollout, and the Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge fund, are going some way to help with this. But there are crucial considerations that need to be addressed if we are to oil the wheels of the UK’s 5G and broadband machine. Deploying the infrastructure (full fibre network) takes time – it requires updated planning policies, regulation and collaboration between local authorities, councils and the companies deploying the fibre.

‘So, if Boris Johnson – or whoever is to be the UK’s next Prime Minister – they really need to do their homework and set realistic plans and timelines for the rollout – and ensure that this support and money is actually given. The industry is doing what it can, but we need to make sure we have enough time to deploy this properly, and that it is done correctly.’

Speaking at the recent Connected Britain event, Clive Selley, CEO, Openreach commented: ‘I think those targets should be regarded as stretch numbers. But I applaud ambition and we should take them seriously.' At the same event, Simon Holden, COO at CityFibre said that the targets are absolutely possible as long as 'all of the citizens go away on holiday for a year.'



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