The long-expected launch of the UK government’s plans to improve broadband speeds for homes and businesses by replacing copper phone wires with fibre-optic cable has been launched with a £400 million investment from the Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund.
Not Full-Fibre For Most Properties
Although the aim is ‘full-fibre’, this first stage is intended to replace the copper cable that runs from individual properties to the roadside cabinets / green boxes at the end of the street. This means that most of the infrastructure for broadband, for the time being, will actually be ‘hybrid fibre’.
Full-fibre (where cables from the box are fibre-optic too) could potentially deliver multi-Gigabit speeds faster than 1000Mbps, but full-fibre is currently only available to 2% of UK premises (despite 89% of UK premises now being within reach of a fixed line superfast broadband service). This does not compare well to other European countries. In Spain for example, 80% of premises have full-fibre access.
The government’s focus until now has been to provide ‘super-fast’ broadband speed (24Mbps or more), but the government’s plans to start replacing copper with fibre-optic is intended to produce ‘ultra-fast’ broadband (anything over 100Mbps).
Two Technologies Together
There are in-fact two technologies which are being deployed to help the UK to work towards ultra-fast broadband. One is fibre, the other is BT’ Openreach’s G.fast which can get high speeds (330Mbits) using a copper wire system. It is cheap to install because it can simply piggyback on existing cables, but it can degrade through too much contact with water.
Most telecoms commentators agree that the £400 million initial investment from the government will be nowhere near enough for the scheme to reach its aims. It is thought that lots more private money (private investors will bring the current total up to £1bn) and tax money will have to be used to bring about the desired updating of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure.
There have been many criticisms of the government’s big plans for boosting broadband speeds with the widespread use of fibre-optic cables including:
- Even if you have a fibre-optic cable to your home / business premises, there will still be shared traffic points in the network which will slow down your broadband at certain times.
- The scheme will need a large number of construction workers. This could mean disruption, logistical challenges, and high costs.
- Full fibre-optic, ultra-fast broadband is not likely to be a reality in the UK anytime soon. At the current rate, BT Openreach has stated that only two million premises will have access to ‘full fibre’ by the end of 2020.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
With so much of business (with customers, suppliers, and internal communications / collaboration) now conducted over the Internet, a fast connection is essential to help UK businesses to remain competitive. It is disappointing, therefore, that UK businesses don’t have, and look unlikely to have any time soon, access to kind of speeds that overseas companies (e.g. competitors) enjoy. While it is good that funding and momentum for the task of delivering faster (fibre or fibre/G.fast) broadband for UK businesses looks to be increasing, the UK has a long way to go. The reality is that we may only have 7% full fibre coverage by 2020.