Openreach defies Covid to hit full-fibre target

BT-owned broadband provision division includes more than 170 city locations in multi-billion-pound gigabit broadband build including cities of Birmingham, Belfast, London and Manchester

As Covid-19 swept the UK in the first weeks of March, national broadband provision firm Openreach warned that it would have to rely on national infrastructure, essential public services and vulnerable customers, thus putting general deployment targets at risk. But 12 months later, it has hit its first target of making full-fibre broadband available to 4.5 million premises across the UK.

The BT-owned provider has said that so far this year it has built full-fibre for more than 1.9 million premises, and is on track to get to 20 million premises by the mid-to-late 2020s, at which point nearly two-thirds of the UK will be able to order full fibre services over the network.

At the end of the current buildout, Openreach has reached more than 170 city locations, including the UK’s biggest cities, such as Birmingham, Belfast, London and Manchester, and is also building in more than 550 market towns and villages.

In addition, it said that it was driving roll-out through partnering with local and national government on a range of subsidised projects, and that it was boosted by the Community Fibre Partnership scheme designed to help local communities build a customised fibre solution to bring fibre broadband to homes and businesses.

The build includes more than three million premises in the UK’s hardest-to-reach areas, and Openreach said it was also encouraged to see strong customer demand for full-fibre services, with more retail communication providers coming on board. New orders were said to be reaching a rate of around 17,000 per week on average during the last quarter.

The background to the buildout is the UK government’s commitment to deliver nationwide gigabit-capable broadband by 2025, regarding next-generation connectivity as having the potential to revolutionise communities and make them more attractive places to live, giving people the freedom to live and work more flexibly and helping to develop thriving digital economies.

In February 2021, the government released research showing that its £2.6bn programme to roll out superfast broadband – defined as providing a minimum of 30Mbps download – to “commercially unviable” parts of the UK had resulted in more than 96% of homes and businesses having access to such connectivity.

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Also, an independent review of the Superfast Broadband Programme, conducted by Ipsos Mori, found that for every £1 invested by the government in that programme, an additional £2.70 to £3.80 of economic and social benefits had been created in the UK economy, and claimed that with faster connections for 5.5 million homes and businesses, superfast broadband had generated £2.7bn in economic benefits since 2012.

The 23 March lockdown announcement meant that Openreach had to undergo a change of focus, focusing on the repair and maintenance of connections that supported UK-critical national infrastructure, essential public services, vulnerable customers and those without service.

It added that its communications provider customers for whom it did last-mile connections were helping it to identify and prioritise these groups. Yet despite the huge upheaval caused by the pandemic, Openreach said its key worker engineers have been working throughout the UK to keep people connected and continue extending the network, and that millions of families, businesses and public sector organisations can now order gigabit connectivity from a host of competing communications providers.

At the end of January 2021, Openreach announced that it was part of a development with leading UK housebuilder Barratt Developments to ensure that full-fibre broadband was installed as standard across all its new-build developments. At the time, Openreach said it was building full-fibre infrastructure for more than 200,000 new homes every year, with about 4,000 new connections every week.

It said the partnership with Barratt will extend its existing commitment to ensuring full-fibre is available to all new-build developments, with its scheme offering fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure free of charge for new housing development sites of 20 or more properties when developers register with it.

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