A couple of weeks ago there was a UK Fibre Connectivity Forum event at the Houses of Parliament. It was a platform for politicians, together with the great and good of the telecoms industry, to debate one question: Can the UK catch-up with the global full fibre connectivity race?
The answer on the night was “Yes”, but we have a long way to go and it’s going to take a lot of ambition and collaboration. In my mind, it’s going to take a lot more than that and nothing short of divine intervention will allow us to catch up in full fibre terms.
Let’s think about the scale of this challenge. For a start, the UK is a long way behind in this race. As Erzsébet Fitori, the director general of the FTTH Council Europe explained: “with less than one percent penetration of FTTH, the UK doesn’t even qualify to be listed on the league table for the best national providers”.
So, we are effectively non-league. And worse than that we’ve spent a lot of our money already. So, without the big bucks to invest how do we ensure that we bring superfast and ultrafast connectivity to the UK?
We all know it makes commercial sense to lay fibre in cities, but the towns and villages that surround them are stuck with legacy, largely copper-based networks, which simply reinforces their position of disadvantage.
The utility providers appear reluctant to share infrastructure to move us forward and property developers ignore the need to lay fibre as part of their new build projects (probably because of cost). And while fibre might be available in cities, not all buildings can access it as landlords have little incentive to make those investments.
DCMS is doing what it can with limited funds and there are numerous programmes and voucher schemes that are stimulating the roll-out of full fibre in isolated pockets, but most fibre network providers are waiting for customer demand before investing in their upgrades. This wait is frustrating millions.
The solution is to be more ambitious. Full fibre networks will attract businesses and innovation in a way that will stimulate growth, but the industry is going to have to collaborate (rather than just compete) to make this happen.
Interestingly, there was no mention at all of the role that fibre/wireless hybrid solutions can play to help the UK catch up. Customers want speed and reliability and, in most cases, don’t care how it’s delivered.
From a Voneus perspective, long may the chaos at the FTTH table continue – we will continue to roll out our hybrid solution to the thousands of homes that need superfast connectivity today.
For the customers we serve – the wait is over.
Steve Leighton, CEO