Digital Britain is still clearly very much a work in progress, yet 2025 is now very much in sight: the government’s pledge of full fibre connections (FTTP) the length and breadth of the country is looming large. Many currently underserved broadband consumers, businesses and public sector users have understandably high expectations.
At present FTTP broadband network connections offering ultrafast speeds of 1Gbps (Gigabits per second) are at only around the 2 million (11%) premises mark. So there’s a way to go yet for attempting to meet the fibre for all promise in just five years from now.
With this, BT Openreach, Virgin Media and increasingly CityFibre are in the front line. However, Openreach is targeting to have reached 4 million premises by early next year and potentially 15 million by 2025. Along the way Virgin Media and CityFibre will add a few more million between them, the latter having recently acquired TalkTalk’s Fibrestation wholesale fibre infrastructure organisation.
But there is also much at stake for alternative, yet equally strategic, fibre infrastructure providers in the delivery of Digital Britain – especially when it comes to serving the smaller and less accessible business and residential communities. The harder to reach regions are often less cost-effective for the larger players to address, at least in the short to medium term.
Away from the more obvious metro areas there are still many areas of the UK where businesses, local authorities and whole communities are underserved with affordable access to ultra-fast internet. However, the winds of change are blowing favourably in this direction. Ofcom and the Government are keen to nurture the efforts of alternates with a more competitive regulatory landscape. Without doubt, Ofcom’s new five-year Fixed Telecoms Market Review (from April 2021 to 2026) is supportive of the Government’s aim to boost full fibre network and 5G coverage and investment.
For diversity from traditional roadside deployment routes, for example, a provider such as Nextgenaccess can make use of Access To Infrastructure (ATI) legislation which gives access to alternative infrastructure for speeding dark fibre deployments. By tapping into core fibre deployed along key rail routes, and even motorways, telecoms operators could potentially bring full fibre services within easier reach of customers, especially underserved communities and businesses around the country.
Furthermore, with 5G, mobile operators now need additional fibre capacity for easing their growing backhaul data traffic challenges. In this area, offering them trackside fibre rail expertise could be invaluable for supporting their necessary RAN (Radio Area Network) upgrades.
Infrastructure based carriers looking to expand their reach, and asset-light operators seeking alternative access routes are also interesting targets to some alternate strategic infrastructure providers. So too are traditional and edge data centres requiring greater network diversity, security and resilience.
How to deploy fibre more quickly and cost-effectively than competitors is of course the key. It helps to have already been licensed to use BT Openreach infrastructure for deploying fibre networks under Duct and Pole Access (DPA) / Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA). Using their infrastructure makes fibre deployment far quicker and significantly cheaper. For example, we are using DPA/PIA in the delivery of a new high capacity 432 dark fibre route between Bristol and NGD’s hyperscale data centre near Newport in South Wales, to be completed later this year. This will have sufficient drop off’s along the way for enabling carriers and resellers to more easily deliver ultra-fast broadband connectivity and services to thousands of businesses and communities in South Wales and Southwest England. At the same time, for hyperscalers, it will provide NGD’s data centre with tri-versity.
In summary, the potential financial rewards on offer for serving ‘forgotten’ or less obvious markets presents significant opportunities to specialist fibre infrastructure providers. Provided that is, they are innovative, fleet of foot, and have significant funding in place for allowing a longer term view in seeing the eventual, potentially considerable return on investment.
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