BT’s broadband provision unit, Openreach, has revealed that in its role at the spearhead of the national programme to roll out gigabit broadband across the country by 2025, it has enabled Salisbury to become the first entire city in the UK to gain access to its fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband technology.
The UK’s gigabit-capable broadband plan was first announced in the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019, buttressed by the 2020 Budget statement confirming the government’s commitment to invest a total of £5bn to roll out full-fibre broadband across the country.
Since then, the subject has been a hot political issue in the UK for the past six months, and before the coronavirus brought expansion to a halt – mainly because of the lack of engineers able to enter customers’ homes – network deployment was being carried out apace.
As well as levelling up broadband provision for UK citizens – most of whom are now working from home – a nationwide fibre-to-the-home network has the potential to provide a huge economic boost to the UK. Research released by Huawei in April 2020 calculated that delivering “Gigabit Britain” could add more than £50bn gross value to the economy in five years, growing to £68.8bn in 2030.
Openreach noted that the new full-fibre network will allow thousands more people to work remotely, unlocking smarter ways of working, better public services and greater opportunities for the next generation of home-grown businesses. Openreach-commissioned research from October 2019, undertaken by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, calculated a potential productivity benefit of £59bn to the UK by 2025, enabling 400,000 more people to work from home.
Specifically, for the South West, the research showed that connecting everyone in the region to full-fibre broadband would create a £4.3bn boost to the local economy. It also found that 42,000 people in the region could return to work through enhanced connectivity – including small businesses and through entrepreneurship.
As part of the deployment of the network in Salisbury’s medieval city centre, Openreach engineers (pictured above) were the first in the world to use new super small connectorised block terminals (CBTs) that discreetly connect fibre cables to people’s homes. The slimline units are designed to connect up to eight premises in one go, without having to erect new poles. They also blend in with surroundings, helping to preserve the character of Salisbury’s historic buildings.
More than 200 have been deployed across the city centre, serving about 1,500 homes and businesses. Other innovations included ground-penetrating radar, which allowed Openreach’s engineers to see and map out a clear route for new cables without any drilling, probing or digging – speeding up the whole process and minimising disruption.
The roll-out of the full-fibre network in Salisbury began in March 2019. Although just 800 homes and businesses have so far upgraded to the new full-fibre service, the network has been made available to more than 20,000 premises in just under 12 months. This is said to be the fastest city-wide network build in the UK.
Openreach worked closely with Wiltshire Council, Salisbury City Council, Salisbury Businesss Improvement District , Salisbury Cathedral, highways authorities and numerous contractors to make efficiencies, such as colocating with street works and planning teams to find better ways of working on planning, road closures and permissions to access private land.
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Openreach CEO Clive Selley said there has never been a better time to upgrade to a full-fibre broadband service. “This new digital platform can help the UK’s economy bounce back more quickly from the Covid-19 pandemic – and that can start right here in Salisbury,” he said. “A full recovery is likely to be measured in years rather than months, but there is strong evidence that points to full-fibre broadband being able to turbo-charge that process.
“For Salisbury’s homes, shops, GP surgeries and schools, full-fibre broadband will mean fewer broadband faults, faster connections, and a consistent, reliable network that will serve the city for decades to come. From home working to healthcare, digital trade to entertainment, the possibilities that this new network can bring are almost limitless.”
In another first, Salisbury has been Openreach’s flagship pilot site for developing and testing ways to upgrade the UK’s old analogue phone network to a new digital service – in which voice calls are carried over the same fibre cables as people’s broadband – instead of traditional copper wires.
From December 2020, residents and businesses will no longer be able to buy a traditional analogue landline, as part of a longer-term plan to retire slower and less reliable copper-based network throughout the country. From this time, homes that can order full-fibre will no longer be able to order traditional copper-based phone or broadband services.