The UK telecoms industry has reacted positively to the government’s pledge to support the rollout of fibre to the premise broadband.
In a pre-briefing ahead of a full announcement tomorrow, the government promised to commit £400 million to a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund designed to boost pure fibre deployments.
In his Autumn Statement on Wednesday, Chancellor Philip Hammond is expected to say that the UK must move towards FTTP/H technology rather than relying on FTTC.
He will cite figures to show that just two percent of premises have access to pure fibre technology currently.
This is due to the fact the BT’s Openreach arm has, for the past seven years, focused on boosting speeds of the UK’s copper infrastructure.
It has made a big bet on G.Fast, which is being rolled out to 10 million homes by 2020.
This year, however, it has made a strategic decision to increase its FTTP/H footprint from 327,000 to two million over the same period.
Reacting to the government’s announcement, a BT spokesman said: “As the government says, the UK is a broadband leader with around nine in 10 premises being able to access superfast services today.
“It is important however that ultrafast broadband is also deployed to as many areas as possible.
“Openreach has ambitious plans to make ultrafast services available to 12 million homes and businesses by the end of 2020 and we support others who wish to roll out their own networks.
“Such activity is very capital intensive and this Fund may be helpful in ensuring smaller players can build sustainable businesses.”
BT has claimed previously that had it prioritised FTTP/H in 2009, it would have spent twice as much to cover half of the premises with souped-up FTTC-based tech.
The DIIF will be a boon to the likes of FTTH provider Hyperoptic, which aims to roll out the technology to 500,000 premises by 2018.
Its CEO Dana Tobak said: “Today’s news is a very positive step in the right direction, which will help the rollout of full fibre broadband across the UK.
"Investment in pure fibre networks is a no-brainer as it supports our increasingly digital dependent economy.
“Of course, the devil is in detail and we would also call upon the government to be more aggressive on its broadband targets, support full fibre, and enable the market conditions to encourage private sector investment, which will ultimately enable Gigabit Britain."
The DIIF will also embolden the likes of Sky, TalkTalk and Vodafone, who have been actively critical of BT’s strategy.
They launched a Fix Britain’s Internet campaign over the summer and have been vocal in calling for Openreach, of which they are customers, to be taken away from BT.
TalkTalk and Sky, along with CityFibre, have even built their own FTTP network in York.
TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding said: “We’re delighted that the government is supporting this cutting edge infrastructure, and encouraging competition between alternative providers to ensure that people up and down the country can enjoy full-fibre broadband as quickly as possible.”
For its part, Vodafone unveiled new research to coincide with the announcement.
It said it commissioned research house Point Topic to look into the UK’s infrastructure “in the absence of clear plans from BT for the roll out of either G.Fast or FTTP by region or constituency”.
The study predicts that BT’s G.Fast rollout will increase UK ultrafast household coverage by less than five percent.
Ultrafast is the moniker used to describe speeds that are equivalent to those provided by pure fibre.
Up to 90 percent of any G.Fast roll-out will focus on areas which will also be covered by ultrafast cable, the study forecasted, and will only be offered to customers living within a few hundred metres of an existing superfast street cabinet.
Vodafone UK Director of External Affairs Helen Lamprell, said: “We welcome the Government’s move to focus on providing full fibre and we call upon BT to be up-front with the British public about its roll out plans and acknowledge that G.Fast will do nothing to help those stranded on archaic and woefully inadequate broadband today.
“BT is pushing a muddled compromise rooted in the past, while the rest of the world is focused on building the Gigabit Society at light speed over fibre.”
The government also promised to commit money to boosting 5G networks, as part of a separate £740 million spend, which will also partly fund fibre expansion.