Openreach adds 67 locations to broadband fibre build plan

Growth accelerates in UK full-fibre network, with 32,000 homes and businesses gaining full-fibre broadband access every week

As part of a new tranche of build work that will begin in March 2021, BT-owned UK national infrastructure provider Openreach has announced a further 67 locations in its Fibre Cities programme.

The new locations stretch across the country from Alloway, Ayrshire to Helsby, Cheshire and Ivybridge, Devon – and the build of the fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband technology will take place over the next two years.

The new programme means that overall, more than 560 towns, cities, boroughs, villages and hamlets have now been included in the company’s Fibre First programme as part of a £12bn project to build full-fibre technology to 20 million premises throughout the UK by the mid- to late 2020s, assuming the right regulatory and political fibre enablers are in place.

In its commitment to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025, the UK government said such next-generation connectivity as this has the potential to revolutionise communities and make them more attractive places to live, giving people the freedom to live and work more flexibly and help to develop thriving digital economies.

In the Queen’s Speech on 19 December 2019, prime minister Boris Johnson’s then newly elected government indicated it would introduce laws to accelerate the delivery of gigabit-capable broadband across the UK by 2025, a legislative journey that began in January 2020. The 2020 Budget statement confirmed the government’s commitment to invest a total of £5bn to roll out full-fibre broadband.

To date, however, rolling out gigabit-capable broadband to all parts of the country has been challenging, and a programme to accelerate the extension of the fibre infrastructure to hard-to-reach locations was initiated by Openreach in January 2020. Also, the Covid-19 outbreak has curtailed home installations since March.

That said, research from UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has confirmed that the availability of full-fibre broadband in the UK continues to improve rapidly over the year, with more than 4.2 million homes (14%) now able to access faster, more reliable full-fibre services – an increase of 670,000 (two percentage points) since January.

This is a result of increased roll-out, both from the expansion of existing broadband networks and the inclusion in its analysis of companies building entirely new fibre networks. In the study period, the three broadband majors – BT, Virgin Media and CityFibre – have continued their full-fibre roll-outs apace, as has the altnet community.

Openreach said it had already built full-fibre technology to more than three million premises across the UK. CEO Clive Selley said: “Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we are continuing to make great strides towards our goal to build ultra-fast, ultra-reliable broadband to 20 million homes and businesses.

“This new digital platform can help the UK’s economy bounce back quicker from the Covid-19 crisis and, while a full recovery is likely to be measured in years rather than months, there is strong evidence that full-fibre broadband could help to turbocharge that process.”

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Since the build programme began in February 2018, Openreach says its engineers have deployed about 2.6 million kilometres of fibre. And as part of its plan to increase this amount, Openreach has selected Warwick-based critical digital infrastructure builder and maintenance firm Telent to build new infrastructure in Wednesbury, Walsall, Coventry, Derby, Castleford, Huddersfield, Newcastle Upon Tyne, Worcester, Bristol, Elmbridge, Surrey, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffordshire and Plymouth.

Telent is one of nine partners to win contracts that will see that infrastructure extended to at least two million more premises. Under the contract, it will be responsible for construction tasks such as surveying, building, testing and supporting Openreach to commission the network so that customers can place orders.

“We are delighted to have been chosen by Openreach to be a major supplier as it expands the number of homes with access to ultra-fast fibre broadband,” said Ric Welsby, managing director of Telent’s infrastructure services division. “The pandemic has demonstrated the critical nature of fast and reliable broadband and Openreach is accelerating its deployment to meet increased demand. We are extremely proud to be playing a part in the roll-out of this important national infrastructure.”

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