Capacity - - Contents -

The UK cur­rently has one of the low­est fi­bre-to-the-premises (FTTP) de­ploy­ment rates in the OECD, with around 2% cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to Of­com, and its legacy cop­per-based net­works are in­creas­ingly un­able to cope with the growth in data seen to­day. Calls on the govern­ment, reg­u­la­tor and op­er­a­tors them­selves to help drive a dig­i­tal and Gi­ga­bit Bri­tain are firmly on the cards, but what is the present state of play in the coun­try?

Matt Han­cock MP, the UK’S dig­i­tal min­is­ter, re­cently ex­plained how fi­bre and 5G are the fu­ture for the coun­try at the Broad­band World Fo­rum and called for a na­tional mar­ket-led FTTP roll­out. “By 2020, the vol­ume of global in­ter­net traf­fic is ex­pected to be 95 times its vol­ume in 2005, in the UK, fixed in­ter­net traf­fic is set to dou­ble ev­ery two years.”

The govern­ment has laid out plans to sup­port high ca­pac­ity and cre­ate a strong UK back­bone and to meet this de­mand, Colt, for ex­am­ple, is in­vest­ing heav­ily and de­ploy­ing net­works which will de­liver an op­ti­cal net­work back­bone de­liv­er­ing 100Gbps and a packet net­work ca­pa­ble of the same any­where within its net­work.

The In­de­pen­dent Net­works Cor­po­ra­tion As­so­ci­a­tion (INCA) has urged the UK govern­ment to make steps to se­cure the UK’S dig­i­tal fu­ture. INCA’S re­cent ‘Build­ing Gi­ga­bit Bri­tain’ re­port, calls on the govern­ment to set dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture tar­gets to help fa­cil­i­tate the wide-scale de­ploy­ment of pure fi­bre or FTTP, sup­port­ing gi­ga­bit ser­vices.

INCA rep­re­sents a new gen­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture builders and in­ter­net ser­vice providers (ISPS) – the Alt­nets. Its re­port, com­piled in con­sul­ta­tion with INCA mem­bers - Ci­ty­fi­bre, Gi­ga­clear, Hyper­op­tic, Rel­ish, ITS, War­wick­net, and na­tional play­ers Sky and Vodafone - says the govern­ment should be set­ting a tar­get of hav­ing 80% of busi­nesses and homes owning pure fi­bre con­nec­tions by 2026.

Only the de­ploy­ment of pure fi­bre in­fra­struc­ture, sup­port­ing vastly greater speeds, more sym­me­try up­stream as well as down and lower la­tency than cop­per or hy­brid net­works, will sup­port the UK’S needs, says INCA, with fi­bre net­works needed to sup­port the growth of both fixed wire­less and mo­bile wire­less ser­vices.

The sup­ply and de­mand gap

INCA’S 2016 mem­ber sur­vey shows that Alt­nets al­ready pass more than twice as many premises with FTTP as BT. By 2020 the Alt­nets fore­cast their FTTP net­works will pass 4.9 mil­lion premises, or 18% of the UK pop­u­la­tion.

“Un­less the Govern­ment takes ac­tion, we will be faced in the very near term with a clear di­ver­gence be­tween sup­ply and de­mand in our dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tions,” said Mal­colm Cor­bett, CEO of INCA. “We ur­gently need to up­grade to pure fi­bre con­nec­tions and the govern­ment needs to act by set­ting the vi­sion and frame­work to en­cour­age in­vest­ment.

“The Alt­nets are do­ing a great job and if we do not en­cour­age their in­vest­ment, our eco­nomic po­si­tion will be put at risk.”

Colt has re­cently helped to cre­ate a stan­dard­ised wayleave le­gal toolkit grant­ing spe­cial ac­cess to land or build­ings for the de­ploy­ment of new in­fra­struc­ture in Lon­don. This will enable car­ri­ers like Colt to de­liver faster dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture de­ploy­ments, and at a lower cost to cus­tomers, sub­stan­tially re­duc­ing the time and cost it takes to get Lon­don busi­nesses con­nected to its high-speed net­work.

Will fu­ture net­works cope

How­ever, BT’S de­ci­sion to up­grade its cop­per net­works to de­liver su­per­fast broad­band could in the long-term risk the foun­da­tions of a Gi­ga­bit Bri­tain. When look­ing at fu­ture con­nec­tiv­ity re­quire­ments, Cisco pre­dicts “con­sumer video-on-de­mand (VOD) traf­fic will nearly dou­ble by 2020. Ul­tra-high def­i­ni­tion (UHD) will be 20.7% of IP VOD traf­fic in 2020, up from 1.6% in 2015”. With au­dio-visual and vir­tual re­al­ity ap­pli­ca­tions be­com­ing in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, the pres­sure on lower la­tency lev­els is crit­i­cal. Ac­cord­ing to Tata Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, “VR’S suc­cess will be largely de­pen­dent on last-mile net­works” and their abil­ity to cope with “the huge in­crease in band­width de­mand gen­er­ated by VR con­tent (about five times as much band­width as HDTV), as well as very low la­tency to sup­port an im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence”.

“We need the dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture that can sup­port this; pro­vid­ing ubiq­ui­tous cov­er­age, so no one is left out, and with suf­fi­cient ca­pac­ity to en­sure data can flow at the vol­ume, speed and re­li­a­bil­ity re­quired to meet the de­mands of mod­ern life,” added Han­cock. “It is es­sen­tial that we keep up. While 10Mbps may be enough for to­day’s needs, it will not be enough for to­mor­row’s.”

The UK is at an im­por­tant junc­ture in de­vel­op­ing its dig­i­tal in­fra­struc­ture and broad­band fu­ture. With the frame­works chang­ing, sup­ported by reg­u­la­tory ac­tion, and the emer­gence of Alt­nets, the prospect of a Gi­ga­bit Bri­tain is promis­ing.

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