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.