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The past 12 months have been a year of rapid development for the UK’s long-running – and often controversial – national broadband roll-out. With the deployment of slower fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) services largely complete and a vanishingly small number of homes and businesses left without access to fit-for-purpose broadband, the industry threw its weight behind the so-called gold standard of broadband delivery technology, full-fibre.
The growing consensus around full-fibre is good news for the UK’s digital economy. Full-fibre, or fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) networks, can provide broadband services with headline speeds well over 100Mbps right out of the gate, and many can already offer gigabit services (1Gbps is 1,000Mbps), bringing a whole range of advanced digital services within reach of consumers and businesses alike.
With so many companies now utterly dependent on broadband to enable them to work effectively and do business around the world, and the UK about to leave the European Union and embark on an experiment that is unprecedented in global economic history, online access will become even more important.
Despite Brexit, or perhaps even because of it, as we move into 2019 the pressure will be on to maintain the current pace of full-fibre roll-out, and to go further still.
Here are Computer Weekly’s top 10 broadband stories of 2018.
Openreach CEO Clive Selley took the lead at the beginning of February when he unveiled a major expansion of the network builder’s fibre-to-the-premises broadband roll-out, pledging to hit three million properties by 2020 through a new programme called Fibre First.
Not to be outdone, internet services provider (ISP) TalkTalk entered discussions with Infracapital – the infrastructure equity investment wing of financial services organisation M&G Prudential – to set up a new company to roll out an ultrafast full-fibre network across the UK. While this deal has not yet, and may never, come to fruition, it reflects the growing interest in full-fibre from private investors.
Also in February of this year, full-fibre specialist VX Fiber formally launched in the UK, bringing its open access model – which has been embraced by service providers in countries such as Germany and South Africa, as well as its native Sweden – to Britain for the first time.
In April came more proof of the growing interest in full-fibre, when network builder CityFibre agreed to be bought by a Goldman Sachs-backed consortium for £538m, or 81p per share, as it sought more financing to roll out broadband services across the UK.
In May, the industry saw a harbinger of the anticipated wave of fixed-mobile network convergence that will come when 5G mobile networks are launched, when BT and its recently acquired mobile operator arm, EE, revealed plans to marry their core fixed broadband, mobile and Wi-Fi networks to create a unified converged asset by 2022.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the full-fibre advocates in 2018. In July, research revealed a quarter of Britons think they already have fibre-to-the-premises installed, despite such a service only being available to 3% of UK properties at the time of writing, suggesting the market needs more clarity and education.
There was better news in July for the troubled Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) project, when the government revealed it had identified £200m of funding within BDUK that it could use for rolling out full-fibre broadband to rural parts of the country that the scheme had not touched with a slower FTTC service.
At the same time, the government’s long-awaited Future Telecoms Infrastructure Review reported that Deploying a nationwide full-fibre network by 2033 in line with its ambitions would cost £30bn under a competitive model, the total sum being an estimate of total undiscounted deployment capital expenditure (capex), and excluding connection costs and lifetime operating expenses.
In October, following the legal split of the two organisations, telecoms regulator Ofcom formally released BT from the 2005 undertakings set up to manage the Openreach infrastructure business, meaning the regulator was satisfied that Openreach was sufficiently independent.
Having tried to help things along by introducing a gigabit broadband connection voucher scheme to enable small businesses to upgrade their service to full-fibre, the government announced in November that it would shut down the scheme much earlier than first thought after finding its success meant it was fast running out of money.