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Matt Hancock calls for market to lead on full FTTP broadband

Digital and culture secretary used his keynote speech at Broadband World Forum to call for a national market-led fibre-to-the-premise roll-out, and pledged government support to make it happen

In a keynote address at the Broadband World Forum trade fair, currently under way in London, digital and culture minister Matt Hancock has called for the market to lead on the national roll-out of full fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP) broadband.

Hancock said that while the concurrent national commercial and government-backed fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) roll-outs have now succeeded in taking so-called superfast broadband – defined in this case as a 24Mbp service – to over 90% of UK homes and businesses, “the price we’ve paid” for FTTC was that only 2% of premises had access to FTTP.

“Yet demand marches on,” he said. “Over the time it has taken to deliver on the superfast plan, people’s needs and expectations have risen further.”

In the light of this, Hancock said the future was clearly FTTP, and evidence from all over the world increasingly pointed to FTTP roll-out as the “underpinning of a digital nation”.

However, he stopped short of hinting at any plans for a government-backed FTTP programme cut from the same cloth as the Broadband Delivery UK (BDUK) superfast scheme.

“The market will have to lead,” said Hancock. “But government can support that by ensuring the right incentives are in place and any barriers are removed.”

The minister pointed to a number of areas where the government could play a role: in setting a market structure that incentivises network owners to deliver FTTP as widely as possible; in experimentation and testing; in cost reduction; and in leadership and target-setting.

Read more about FTTP broadband

  • In a recently released report, the Independent Networks Co-operative Association called for the government to make a more ambitious commitment to fibre broadband.
  • Earlier this year, developers Countryside and L&Q deployed full fibre broadband services on their Beaulieu residential development in Chelmsford, Essex.
  • A team of researchers at University College London has developed a new design of optical receiver that they claim could dramatically reduce the costs of deploying FTTP broadband.

He pointed to the example of Hull, where local incumbent Kcom is set to double the number of properties that can access its ultrafast FTTP service between May 2016 and the end of 2017; of York, where Sky and TalkTalk have enabled an urban FTTP network; and of Hyperoptic’s new-build and apartment building roll-outs as good examples of how FTTP coverage could now be extended quickly without government subsidy.

In a panel session at the show, BT’s head of research and innovation, Tim Whitley, echoed Hancock’s view that FTTC had been the right solution at the right time, as well as the prevailing sentiment at BT, which has now firmly lined up in favour of a mix of FTTP and interim copper-based technology as the optimal way forward for the UK’s broadband infrastructure.

Whitley said customers did not necessarily buy broadband services based on headline speed, but based on the services they wanted to consume online.

This meant that with the rise of data-intensive services such as high-definition, on-demand video, BT needed to “tenaciously explore all technology options to meet the demands customers present”, he said.

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