The full fibre rollout in the UK - will new providers help boost competition?

The full fibre rollout in the UK - will new providers help boost competition?

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The UK currently has one of the lowest penetrations of full fibre broadband technology in Europe, with figures from Ofcom suggesting just five per cent of homes and businesses - about 1.4 million premises - were able to connect to the technology as of May 2018.

However, the government has ambitious plans to change this, with the goal being to connect every property in the UK directly to fibre by 2033, thereby enabling the legacy copper wire network to be finally retired.

Much of the burden of deployment is expected to fall on infrastructure provider Openreach, with the firm's Fibre First scheme aiming to connect three million homes and businesses to fibre-to-the-premises technology by the end of next year.

But for a healthy marketplace, the broadband industry needs more than this. Other providers that are able to offer direct competition for fibre connectivity, and reach places that major suppliers deem to be commercially unviable, will be essential in the coming years if the goal of delivering full fibre services to every home and business are to be realised.

Alternative firms benefit from new investment

However, it seems interest in this area is booming, with several new and emerging providers acquiring funding to greatly expand their own networks.

Hyperoptic, for example, which has been around for a few years and focuses its efforts on densely-populated urban areas, such as apartment blocks, announced late last year that it had secured investment from Mubadala Investment Company, the investment arm of the Government of Abu Dhabi. 

This will allow it to embark upon a £500 million programme of expansion over the next three years that will help the company reach a target of connecting five million premises by 2024.

Elsewhere, another well-established player, CityFibre is planning to invest some £2.5 billion into its full fibre network over the coming years. It is partnering with Vodafone to deliver services to consumers and businesses up and down the UK and has plans for several 'Gigabit Cities', with Milton Keynes to be the first location to be completely connected to this technology.

Terry Hart, CityFibre’s chief finance officer, said: "As our networks are rolled out, this will benefit everyone, driving innovation and increasing fibre penetration across the UK, providing the future-proof digital connectivity the UK needs."

However, it's not just larger, urban-focused providers that are seeking to drive the move to full-fibre connectivity. There are also a range of regional providers that may be able to bring a more local touch to the market, and be more in tune with the unique needs of specific communities.

Ensuring rural areas aren't left behind

A common concern for many when embarking on these large-scale infrastructure projects is ensuring the benefits are felt evenly. Traditionally, new technologies - whether it was fixed-line ADSL broadband or the 4G mobile rollout - have focused their initial efforts on larger towns and cities, where there is a large potential customer base and it is quicker to connect homes and businesses at scale.

However, this has left many rural areas feeling as though they are missing out. Therefore, several firms are taking steps to ensure this doesn't happen with the full fibre rollout, by focusing their efforts on the countryside.

One such firm is newly-founded Zzoomm. The work of Cityfibre founder Matthew Hare, this Oxfordshire-based firm has plans to connect more than one million homes over the next five years, but it's looking to avoid the usual cities.

Mr Hare said: “The full fibre revolution is here, but many are currently left behind. Numerous small towns and suburbs still do not have any plans for full fibre from the network into the properties and are stuck with the pedestrian internet access speeds ... provided by copper wires."

Elsewhere, Essex-based County Broadband has also announced plans to bring FTTP to around 320,000 premises in rural villages in east Anglia, thanks to £36 million in backing from Aviva Investors.

Therefore, the future looks bright for the prospects of full fibre connectivity in places that may normally expect to miss out. It's clear that appetite for the technology among investors is strong and, with this translating into many large-scale deployment plans, users could find they have a wide choice in solutions for hooking up to gigabit-capable connectivity in the coming years.

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