ICE’s insights paper examines the rollout programme for full-fibre and gigabit capable broadband. It considers the potential economic and social benefits, delivery challenges and the potential for alternative approaches.
The new Parliament might be barely more than a month old, but by the time the public next go to the polls, a major infrastructure programme - the installation of full-fibre and gigabit capable broadband to every home and business across the UK - is planned to be near complete.
As ICE’s new insights paper on the rollout of full-fibre broadband reveals, this is an incredibly ambitious target. When the Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review was released in 2018, the then Government under Theresa May aimed to ensure a full-fibre to the premises (FTTP) network would be in place by 2033. The new target - of 2025 - is a full eight years earlier than planned just two years ago.
The engineering challenges
A new fibre optic network is capable of delivering much faster upload and download speeds for households and businesses. Without it, next generation technology, including mobile 5G, will struggle to perform. Fibre is also more reliable than existing copper cables, with performance more resilient to weather or electromagnetic interference.
Installing it to every home and business is first and foremost a massive engineering challenge. It will mean new trenches dug into many residential streets in the UK and new ducts and poles crisscrossing – and connecting – the nation.
Enabling a digital economy
A full-fibre network would have wide ranging economic impacts. Openreach believe it will boost the economy by some £60 billion by 2025, enabling some people not in the workforce to re-enter work and supporting more people to work remotely. This economic and speed stimulus is desperately needed in a world which is more interconnected. Whilst the UK has an impressive 95% coverage for super-fast broadband, just 8% of the country is covered by fibre connectivity. When 28% of France, 71% of Spain and 97% of Japan has access to fibre enabled broadband, Britain is at risk of falling far behind in the global race.
Fibre doesn’t just add speed – it also adds capacity. As the country grows, as technology develops and as more information flows, it is important to avoid bottlenecks. Full-fibre would also have a profound impact on economic infrastructure. Building Information Modelling, digital twins and remote monitoring will all benefit from increased speed, connectivity and reliability. Tomorrow’s engineers will design, build, collaborate and improve infrastructure assets in real time, from anywhere in the world.
Are there better ways to connect the UK?
ICE’s paper also examines alternative pathways for delivering enhanced internet connectivity. These include Canada’s plans to link up its communities using low earth orbit satellites and how 5G could be leveraged to better connect homes to the fibre network.