Telcos praise UK £1bn investment plans

By:
James Pearce
Published on:

Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond is expected to commit around £1bn of funds for telecoms infrastructure in Autumn Statement

UK telecoms companies have welcomed government plans to commit up to £740 million to the development of 5G and fibre technologies.

Chancellor Phillip Hammond is expected to announce the funds in tomorrow’s (23 November) Autumn Statement. He will commit the money to help spur the rollout of fibre connections and 5G, which is expected to launch in 2020.

Reports claim the Chancellor will say the UK must move towards “fibre-to-the-property” (FTTP) technology, with speeds of up to 1Gbps currently on offer. This compares with an average internet of speed of just 28.9Mbps across the UK currently, according to regulator Ofcom.

Hammond is also set to announce £400 million for a new Digital Infrastructure Investment Fund, which will be doubled by private investment, and will be aimed at fibre providers looking to expand their range of services.

Broadband provider CityFibre welcomed the announcement, saying the cumulative £1 billion+ of government support will serve as a “catalyst” for Britain’s fibre future.

“As a pure fibre infrastructure pioneer and the company behind the UK’s growing ranks of Gigabit Cities, CityFibre welcomes the Chancellor’s support to accelerate the deployment of fibre and 5G to homes and businesses,” said CityFibre CEO Greg Mesch. 

“Britain’s industrial strategy needs a digital backbone, and it is essential that we move quickly to plug the UK’s ‘fibre gap’ and empower our service-based economy. This new funding, stimulating competitive fibre rollout at scale by new communications infrastructure builders, is a catalyst for the delivery of the UK’s fibre future.”  

Although the UK government has previously launched investment schemes into improving broadband services, this is the first time it will focus on a specific technology, namely FTTP (also known as fibre-to-the-home/premises).

Just 2% of UK residents currently have access to FTTH connections. Vodafone UK claims that, without the government intervention, just 6.5% of homes will receive full fibre by 2020 due to BT’s focus on G.fast technology.

The mobile operator contrasts this with Sweden and Spain, where more than 80% of homes are passed by fibre. This figure is expected to top 95% by 2020.

Vodafone UK director of external affairs Helen Lamprell, said: “We welcome the Government’s move to focus on providing full fibre and we call upon BT to be up-front with the British public about its roll out plans and acknowledge that G.Fast will do nothing to help those stranded on archaic and woefully inadequate broadband today. BT is pushing a muddled compromise rooted in the past, while the rest of the world is focused on building the Gigabit Society at light speed over fibre.”

Though there has been no official announcement yet from the Government, the expected investment into mobile technology has also been welcomed. A number of global carriers have already began trialling 5G technology.

Foreign secretary Boris Johnson pledged to launch 5G technology in London by 2020, and Cobham Wireless said Hammond’s plans to enable local authorities to get involved in the trialling process will be key to the commercialisation of the technology.

Cobham research and technology director Li-Ke Huang said: “5G promises consumers and businesses higher data rates and multilayer functionality that could power future IoT systems, new mobile services and machine-to-machine technology like smart cars. 

“The UK must move now to put in place large scale intelligent network infrastructure testing solutions, to ensure successful 5G development as early as possible. The 5G innovation centre at the University of Surrey is actively involved in testing the performance of 5G, but we need continual investment in new solutions to support 5G development, looking at chipset and radios, and end-to-end network performance. This will provide the wireless industry with the blueprint to begin developing the coherent technological framework needed to support 5G.”