The great fibre debate

As ISPs squabble over infrastructure pricing and uncertainty surrounding demand, fibre broadband rollout in the UK could be in jeopardy. Tom Brewster investigates...

Fibre broadband is spreading rapidly across the UK, but all is not as rosy as it seems.

In reality, the rollout of superfast connections to the majority of the nation is in jeopardy.

Both Government and industry have made solid commitments, yet a number of potential pitfalls could make the road to fibre a rocky one.

Culture secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to make the UK the top broadband nation in Europe. Yet those plans might fall into disarray thanks to industry squabbling over infrastructure and uncertainty surrounding actual enthusiasm for fibre.

The Government believes the UK will be the best-connected nation in Europe by 2015, so deadlines are looming. If they are to be met, the great fibre debate needs to spawn genuine progress and fast.

A slow nation?

Looking at the history of fibre in the UK, it's clear this country hasn't always been the most forward-thinking nation. The case for next-generation connections was made as far back as the 1980s, during Margaret Thatcher's reign as Prime Minister.

The UK isn't even close to achieving world-beating speeds. Comparatively, we're positively sluggish.

When BT proposed the case for fibre then, Thatcher snubbed the telecoms giant. Amongst other concerns, she cited anxieties over a lack of competition in the market a theme which still resonates today.

Over the following decades, South Korea, Japan and European nations like Sweden rolled out their own fibre networks, whilst the UK floundered. It has only been in the past two to three years that this nation has truly got a grip on fibre.

Right now, however, the UK isn't even close to achieving world-beating speeds. Comparatively, we're positively sluggish.

Just one British city, Bradford, appeared in Akamai's top 100 broadband speed rankings earlier this year, creeping in at 99, whilst South Korea and Japan dominated.

Gaining momentum

Rollouts are now progressing at breakneck speeds, however. BT and Virgin are the two major players here.

BT has staked its claim on the fibre landscape with a massive 2.5 billion investment on infrastructure to cover two-thirds of the UK by 2015.

Last month, BT said it was bringing connections to an extra 80,000 additional premises every week, in one of the fastest rollouts in the world. It also has plans to almost double the speed of its fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC) based service in 2012.

Virgin is investing in a fibre optic network it hopes will pass close to 85 per cent of all UK businesses. The company has started offering 100Mbps services over its fibre network which spans 186,000 km.

These "ultrafast" connections can now be accessed by over 100 towns across the UK. Virgin's also been trying out some 200Mbps services, posing itself as the Speedy Gonzales of the nation's ISPs, quite literally.

As for the so-called "final third" those remote parts of the UK which haven't been guaranteed fibre access some headway is being made.

Fujitsu is planning a fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network to provide for a further five million rural homes, in a project which has already attracted Virgin Media and TalkTalk.

The Government is firmly on board too, allocating 830 million from its BDUK fund to help bring services to remote areas. The Coalition plans to have 90 per cent of all homes and businesses connected to speeds of at least 25Mbps by 2015, whether via fibre or not.

All of the above might lead you to believe the UK is set to become a true world leader in broadband. Sadly, you would be mistaken.

Featured Resources

BCDR buyer's guide for MSPs

How to choose a business continuity and disaster recovery solution

Download now

The definitive guide to IT security

Protecting your MSP and your customers

Download now

Cost of a data breach report 2020

Find out what factors help mitigate breach costs

Download now

The complete guide to changing your phone system provider

Optimise your phone system for better business results

Download now

Recommended

Broadband industry sues New York over $15 price cap
broadband

Broadband industry sues New York over $15 price cap

4 May 2021
AT&T pledges $2 billion to help bridge the digital divide
digital divide

AT&T pledges $2 billion to help bridge the digital divide

14 Apr 2021
How to measure your network bandwidth
broadband

How to measure your network bandwidth

26 Mar 2021
UK 5G spectrum auction will finally go ahead this week
5G

UK 5G spectrum auction will finally go ahead this week

10 Mar 2021

Most Popular

Dell patches vulnerability affecting hundreds of computer models worldwide
cyber security

Dell patches vulnerability affecting hundreds of computer models worldwide

5 May 2021
16 ways to speed up your laptop
Laptops

16 ways to speed up your laptop

29 Apr 2021
KPMG offers staff 'four-day fortnight' in hybrid work plans
flexible working

KPMG offers staff 'four-day fortnight' in hybrid work plans

6 May 2021