In this article HighNet’s David Alldritt examines the increasing availability of full-fibre coverage for businesses across the UK, and discusses the key benefits and likely challenges that come with this.
Less than four years ago the UK Government realised that full-fibre for the whole of the UK is an essential component in achieving any kind of serious ambition with regard to our digital future. It has taken a while, but we’ve seen full-fibre coverage start to shift up a gear or two as further investment and further competition has come into the market.
CityFibre has just agreed a deal to acquire TalkTalk’s FibreNation infrastructure business, and Liberty Global is launching a new full-fibre network independent of the Virgin Media brand. BT Openreach is in genuine ‘fibre first’ mode in an effort to keep up. The pace of fibre build is now getting serious, with tens of thousands of homes and businesses being reached every week, and full-fibre availability has moved on from 3% of UK premises to about 12%.
So, the market is doing its bit, the pace of growth and change is now impressive, and Ofcom has just published its consultation paper ahead of the next Fixed Wholesale Telecoms Market Review (FWTMR).
This Review maps out the regulatory landscape which will be in effect from 2021 to 2026. During that period, we should see full-fibre available to the majority of all consumers and businesses. That’s just as well, because in 2025 the old telephony network switches off and all of our voice services will be running on VoIP. If you run a business and currently rely on ISDN (digital) or analogue telephony, you’ll be using something different by 2025 – and it won’t be optional.
At some point soon after 2025, Openreach will be looking to switch off all their legacy copper infrastructure. It makes no commercial sense to run a rump of copper-based broadband services such as Fibre To The Cabinet and G.Fast, when you’re operating a full-fibre network for more than 90% of your customers. Ofcom’s FWTMR looks to encourage competition in building and operating full-fibre services, whilst protecting consumers and allowing deregulation where appropriate. The Review also has a clear intent not to see rural areas on the wrong side of a digital divide, and outlines plans for how they intend to support that aim.
At the same time as this consultation, work is underway to introduce the UK’s regulatory framework to comply with the European Electronic Communications Code, which will come into effect in Dec 2020. This covers some key protections regarding contracts and supplier switching, and with the above changes underway those things will be extremely important.
Full-fibre connectivity is a great business enabler not only for voice services but for the reliable high-speed internet that makes it easy to adopt more cloud services on your desktop and across the whole spectrum of business software applications. It is kinder to the environment and has genuine benefits for productivity and profitability – for the purposes of this short article please take my word for it, or challenge me on here or offline and I’ll explain.
The land of milk and honey awaits! But it won’t be quite as simple as that. The UK still has millions of phone numbers to move over to IP services, and as the switch-off approaches there will be potential bottlenecks in the supply chain. Most organisations and individuals have genuine concerns about online security. Fibre builds can be disruptive to local communities. People can find themselves locked into contractual terms without a suitable upgrade path.
We want to fully engage with the businesses community on this one, so we are asking if you think your organisation is ready? Do you know where to start? Do you know all about it and want to influence the Ofcom consultation? Let’s make 2020 the year when we change up a gear and accelerate all of that – or we risk being left behind.