At Ofcom’s Full Fibre Connectivity event last week, it was particularly interesting to hear from Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State of the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport. To my mind, there appears to be something of a disconnect between a positive mood in government and the realities being faced by the industry at large.
As it stands, only 3% of UK premises have full fibre connectivity. In other words, we’re lagging behind many other countries, like Spain, France and the Nordics, who are significantly further along the road to connectivity, with rates of 60-90% in their homes. Of course, the UK government is making moves to close that gap and full fibre connectivity has become a key government priority. The Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, for example, is set to unlock over £1 billion of investment for full fibre broadband, aiming to make it available to 10 million homes and businesses by 2022 with things like the Nationwide Gigabit Voucher Scheme.
The government also recognises that it has a part to play in removing the barriers to deploying new telecoms infrastructure, but of course that’s a complex thing to achieve. We should look to those countries that are closer to a full fibre future and learn from the things they have in common: long-term political commitment, strong regulatory measures and a focus on reducing the costs of deployment.
A full fibre future is a certainty. It’s also, in the words off Matt Hancock MP, essential to driving a ‘competitive, productive, outward-looking economy’. It’s how we get to that point of world-class digital infrastructure that remains to be seen. The fact is that planning laws and local authority inconsistencies around wayleaves continue to present a huge challenge to deployment. Speakers from BT, TalkTalk and Virgin Media all discussed the contradictions that surround wayleaves as a recurring industry issue.
Let’s not forget the massive benefits we can all reap from a full fibre future. In fact, it’s estimated that wherever you build full fibre, there’s uptake of around 50% in homes. And we can only assume that uptake will go up as the demand for higher speeds and bandwidth in our homes and businesses goes up. For ISPs, full fibre connectivity to the premise can even see them achieving a significant 10-50% reduction in customer churn as the cost to serve the location scales accordingly, along with better performance. The demand for full fibre and its advantages is clear – we just need the supply.
That’s why our focus at SSE Enterprise Telecoms is on helping businesses navigate those barriers to full fibre infrastructure by exploring innovative alternatives. Our recent deal that enabled us to distribute fibre optic cables throughout Thames Water’s wastewater network being a case in point. As we see it, it’s with innovative solutions like this that we can best help to transform lives and the economy in the UK.