UK rural full-fibre broadband network expanded further

Over three million more homes and businesses in rural areas of the UK given the opportunity to get ultra-reliable, gigabit-ready, full-fibre broadband by mid-2020s

In a further push by BT’s broadband provision division to meet its ambitious target to roll out full-fibre networks across the UK, Openreach has announced plans to deliver gigabit-ready broadband to another 3.2 million rural homes and businesses across the country.

Openreach has pledged to invest £12bn to connect more than 20 million premises over the coming years. Some three million homes and businesses are already able to connect to full-fibre broadband delivered by the company, which said it will add the new homes by the middle part of the decade, emphasising that it will connect hitherto hard to reach spots in the UK.

The UK national broadband infrastructure provider first began to ramp up its programme to deliver full-fibre connections across the UK in January 2020, unveiling a plan to connect 200 locations, mainly towns and villages not already passed by the network. The plans, announced in January, were intended to build on what were described as successful village trials launched at the tail end of 2019, and which, said Openreach, led to the company widening out its build programme to include 250,000 homes and businesses in the more than 200 locations.

The new locations cover market towns and villages previously considered too complex or expensive to upgrade commercially to full-fibre. They 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 target stated in 2019 to reach four million homes and businesses with full-fibre technology by March 2021.

In making its announcement in the pre-Covid days, Ofcom noted that there were clear economic benefits to building full-fibre broadband in rural areas. It cited a report by the Centre for Economics & Business Research (Cebr) – Full-fibre broadband: A platform for growth – 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 and into rural areas, helping stimulate regional and rural economic growth and potentially saving 300 million commuting trips each year.

Such benefits and the need for gigabit broadband have become even more important with the onset of Covid-19. In May 2020, Openreach signed a deal with communications technology supplier Nokia to make good on its promise to extend full-fibre gigabit fibre access across the UK. It had also recalculated its target to reach 4.5 million premises by the end of March 2021, and also to provide a platform for the UK’s post-coronavirus economic recovery.

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