Openreach extends full-fibre network to rural UK

UK national broadband infrastructure provider ramps up programme to deliver full-fibre to 200 locations, mainly towns and villages hitherto not passed by network

The one thing that the UK’s broadband industry cannot be accused of right now is inertia, and in the latest part of the drive to take full-fibre around the country, national infrastructure provider Openreach has extended the reach of its ultrafast network to so-called hard-to-reach locations.

The plans build on what have been described as successful village trials launched at the tail end of 2019, and which, said Openreach, have led to the company widening out its build programme to include 250,000 homes and businesses in more than 200 locations.

The new locations cover market towns and villages previously considered too complex or expensive to upgrade commercially to full-fibre, and include towns such as Aberdare in South Wales and Saxmundham in Suffolk. The portion of this build plan, due to be completed by March 2021, is said to be within Openreach’s previously stated target to reach four million homes and businesses with full-fibre technology by March 2021.

In making its announcement, Ofcom noted that there were clear economic benefits to building full-fibre in rural areas. It cited a report by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) – Full-fibre broadband: A platform for growth – that it commissioned in 2019, calculating that with a reliable fibre connection to every property by 2025 half a million people could be brought back into the workforce through enhanced connectivity, and at least 400,000 more people could work from home, allowing them to live and work where they choose.

In addition, the study argued that the roll-out of full-fibre could see as many as 270,000 people freed to move out of cities in rural areas, helping stimulate regional and rural economic growth and potentially saving 300 million commuting trips each year.

Openreach recently reached over two million homes and businesses with full-fibre technology, and a quarter of its existing footprint already falls within rural areas. More than 120,000 homes and businesses across the UK have also signed up to Openreach’s Community Fibre Partnership (CFP) scheme. The programme is designed to enable Openreach to work with a local community to build a customised co-funded solution and bring fibre broadband to areas not included in any existing private or publicly subsidised upgrade schemes.

Commenting on the extension of the network, Openreach CEO Clive Selley said: Our full-fibre build programme is going great guns – having passed over two million premises already on the way to our four million target by March 2021. We’re now building at around 26,000 premises a week in over 100 locations – reaching a new home or business every 23 seconds. That’s up from 13,000 premises a week this time last year.

“Our full-fibre build programme is going great guns – we’re now building at around 26,000 premises a week in over 100 locations – reaching a new home or business every 23 seconds”
Clive Selley, Openreach

“Our ambition is to reach 15 million premises by the mid-2020s if the right investment conditions are in place. Currently, the biggest missing piece of this puzzle is getting an exemption from business rates on building fibre cables which is critical for any fibre builder’s long-term investment case.”

Showing what full-fibre could do, Openreach cited the case of Cornwall-based ice-cream-making business Callestick Farm, which it says with fibre access has created new markets and business opportunities for the family firm, including helping to establish and grow a new customer base in China.

“Marketing is at the heart of our business and now we can really make the most of the internet to reach out to customers,” said Callestick Farm operations director Ben Parker.

“The key benefit is that we will now be able to use the cloud and cloud-based applications within our business operations. This should help us build still closer relationships with customers and will also remove the need for travel to some meetings, so this will bring cost and time savings as well. Everyday emailing, internet banking and online research is also so much faster and this all adds up, saving us time and increasing productivity.”

Adding the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI) opinion on extending the network, Felicity Burch, CBI director of digital and innovation, said: “We welcome Openreach’s plan to expand its full-fibre network, using the double boost of investment and innovation to deliver fast, reliable connectivity to rural communities, from South Wales to Suffolk.

“For employers, this will support flexible working, quicken adoption of new technologies and spur on regional economic growth. It’s now vital the government’s £5bn funding for broadband is spent in the hardest to reach parts of the UK, hitting the 2025 target of gigabit-capable connectivity nationwide.”

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